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. 

Energy and Climate Change

The tropics are getting wetter: the reason could be clumpy storms
For a long time climate models have predicted that wet and warm areas in the tropics are going to get wetter, especially over the oceans. Observations of the recent past are beginning to support this hypothesis. What we didn’t know is how this change might occur. In research published today in Nature, our research team shows that the answer could be thunderstorms, specifically those that are gregarious and clump together, a behaviour referred to as “organisation” of convective storms.0

California first state to generate more than 5% of electricity from utility-scale solar
California has become the first state with more than 5% of its annual utility-scale electricity generation from utility-scale solar power, according to EIA’s Electric Power Monthly. California’s utility-scale (1 megawatt (MW) or larger) solar plants generated a record 9.9 million megawatthours (MWh) of electricity in 2014, an increase of 6.1 million MWh from 2013. California’s utility-scale solar production in 2014 was more than three times the output of the next-highest state, Arizona, and more than all other states combined.

Clean Energy Council announces support for huge RET cut
AUSTRALIA – The Clean Energy Council, the peak body of the renewable energy industry, has called on the federal government and opposition to accept a compromise Renewable Energy Target for large-scale renewable energy of 33,500 gigawatt-hours by 2020 to end political deadlock that has brought investment in large-scale renewables to a screeching halt. It has also backed providing full exemption to emissions-intensive trade exposed industries, such as aluminium smelting. The position represents more than a 30 per cent cut to the current target.

EU agrees to start carbon market stability reserve in 2021
EU member states are set to begin negotiations on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) next week after an agreement was reached on Wednesday. They have agreed to seek cutting supply in the carbon market in 2021, despite calls for earlier action. The EU-ETS covers more than 11,000 factories, power station and other installations. It operates on a cap-and-trade system, where the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions that can be emitted by the businesses involved is set and allowance can then be traded.

Large fall in UK greenhouse gas emissions of over 8% last year
The UK’s greenhouse gas emissions plunged by 8.4% last year, as household energy consumption slumped, the use of coal for electricity generation fell, and policies on climate change took effect, according to government statistics released on Thursday. Carbon dioxide output fell by almost a tenth, as renewable energy generation rose to a new record high, accounting for nearly a fifth of electricity. It was the biggest fall in emissions since 1990.

Pakistan shelves six coal-fired power projects
Pakistan has halted work on six coal-fired power projects of some 14,000 megawatts due to environmental concerns, lack of needed infrastructure and foreign investment. Omar Rasool, a top official in the water and power ministry, confirmed the projects have been put on the back burner and the government was now planning to use liquefied natural gas (LNG) to generate electricity. “The government is well aware of the environmental hazards of the coal-fired power projects; therefore it is planning to use alternative sources like the natural gas to produce electricity,” he said. However, Rasool said the government was still negotiating with the Chinese government to secure investment for at least two coal-based power projects.

Environment and Biodiversity

What can we say for certain about dredging and the Great Barrier Reef?
To protect and manage environmental treasures like the Great Barrier Reef requires a strong foundation of science, but what should agencies and political leaders do when the science is as widely debated as it has been for dredging and disposal in the Great Barrier Reef? Over the past 15 months, we have led a process with a panel of experts to provide an independent overview of the current knowledge of the effects of dredging and sediment disposal in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Our panel included a very diverse range of expertise and experience, from years in the dredging industry, to physical oceanographers and coral ecologists.

Can animals ever be artists?
Anthropologists consider art to be a uniquely human activity in which a person produces something for the aesthetic appreciation of others. But human motives are seldom so simple. Modern-day artists are very aware of the commercial value of their product and of the fringe benefits of being successful artists such as fame and attracting members of the opposite or same sex. Art I suspect was never just for aesthetic appreciation. This anthropologic definition of art seems to exclude the possibility that animals can be artists. For example, we might find male birds of paradise extremely beautiful but this is not art. Bird song is often described as music and the displays of some animals are described as dance. But do they qualify as art?

Shape-Shifting Frog Found, Goes From Spiky to Smooth in Minutes
Deep in the rain forest of Ecuador lives a very indecisive frog. On a nighttime walk in 2009, scientist Katherine Krynak spotted a well-camouflaged, marble-size amphibian that was covered in spines. But when she brought it inside, suspecting it was a new species, Krynak found a rather smooth and slimy critter.”I was so mad at myself! I thought I had brought back the wrong frog,” said Krynak, who was surveying amphibian species in the Reserva Las Gralarias. She hadn’t. When she tucked a small piece of moss in the frog’s container to make it more comfortable before releasing it back into the forest, the spines slowly reappeared.

The mutable rainfrog (pictured) can go from smooth (left) to spiny in minutes. Photographs by Juan M. Guayasamin (right) and Lucas Bustamante (left), The Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

The mutable rainfrog (pictured) can go from smooth (left) to spiny in minutes. Photographs by Juan M. Guayasamin (right) and Lucas Bustamante (left), The Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society

RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch confirms many species still declining
The number of backyard researchers in the world’s biggest citizen science survey was up this year, but participants found populations of many bird species continued to decline.  More than 585,000 people took part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch. The survey took place over a January weekend, as it has for the past 36 years. The number of amateur scientists was almost 100,000 more than last year, falling just short of the record participation in 2011. The RSPB said friendly media coverage and support from celebrities had helped inspire Britons to be involved.

SCS Global Services Certifies One of the Largest Forest Areas in South Asia Under FSC Standard
Third-party certifier SCS Global Services has announced that Uttar Pradesh Forest Corporation (UPFC) — which manages all aspects of forestry operations within the State of Uttar Pradesh, located in northern India bordering on Nepal — has met all of the requirements necessary to earn certification for responsible forestry under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standard. The Forest Management Certification encompasses 13 forest divisions covering a total forest area of 349,296 hectares. This area represents roughly 40 percent of the FSC-certified forest area in South Asia.

Groundwater won’t suffer from mining activity
NEW ZEALAND – Groundwater quality won’t suffer in the Coromandel’s Karangahake Gorge through a gold mining company’s bulk sampling activities, according to an independent review. Waikato Regional Council commissioned minerals expert Dr James Pope to carry out a review of New Talisman Gold’s (NTL) water management plan following concerns raised by mining watchdog group Protect Karangahake about potential discharges of contaminated water from the mine during the exploration process. In his review, Pope said NTL’s activities would have “little difference” on the chemical conditions that currently occur in the mine’s drainage system. NTL have received resource consent from Hauraki District Council to carry out sample gold mining in Karangahake mountain’s historic Talisman Gold Mine. The consent allows one blast per day and the removal of 600 tonnes of ore per month for the next two years.

Economy and Business

Sustainable Investments Outperforming Traditional Investments Reports Morgan Stanley
A new report from the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing finds that investing in sustainability has usually met and often exceeded the performance of comparable traditional investments, both on an absolute and risk-adjusted basis, across asset classes and over time. “We believe sustainable investing will be a key in the mobilization of private capital towards addressing global challenges, but the growth and development of this space remains hampered by a lingering perception that sustainable investments require a financial trade-off.  Our review addresses the investment performance concern head-on, and the findings are very positive,” said Audrey Choi, CEO of the Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing.

Nissan backs down over car safety controversy in India
The global organisation for car safety has won a David and Goliath style battle with car giant Nissan to improve the safety of a brand new model that it argued should never have been allowed to go on sale. The Japanese car company has agreed to strengthen the body shell and fit airbags of its Datsun Go model, which has been on sale in India and South Africa since last year. Nissan had initially defended the integrity of the vehicle after the Global NCAP publicly called on Nissan last year to withdraw it from the Indian market. A crash test showed the Go had so little structural integrity that passengers were unlikely to survive a head-on collision. David Ward, chief executive of Global NCAP, said the episode was a wake-up call to all car manufacturers that it is unacceptable to sell potentially dangerous cars in emerging markets and use the excuse that they comply with local legislation.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Message on waste plastic really floats their boat
A thousand discarded plastic bottles and a lot of ingenuity have helped 22 young people from all over New Zealand paddle Abel Tasman National Park to educate Kiwi kids about waste and sustainability.  The Plastic Bottle Kayak Project transformed reject cider bottles into four double kayaks which the team paddled from Bark Bay to Marahau.  The Hulk, Rebel, The Bishop, and Bottlenose were designed and built by project members at Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology. The team, including former Motueka man Erik Zydervelt, assembled from all over the country at Kaiteriteri on Saturday.

Politics and Society

WikiLeaks reveals local health and environment rules under threat
Australian health, environment and public welfare regulation, including plain tobacco packaging legislation, will be open for challenge from largely US-based corporations, if a new deal that is part of the Trans Pacific Partnership goes through. WikiLeaks has revealed that the Australian government is close to agreement on a wide-ranging trade deal that could allow multinational corporations to challenge these regulations as well as local food safety standards. The new TPP free trade agreement will cover approximately 40 per cent of the world economy.  Intellectual property law expert, Australian National University Associate Professor Matthew Rimmer says the WikiLeaks publication is “a bombshell” that will “galvanise resistance and opposition to fast-tracking of this mega trade deal”.

Wangan and Jagalingou people reject $16 billion Carmichael mine to be build in central Queensland
A challenge by Indigenous interests to the Carmichael mega mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin is shaping up as the biggest test of Australia’s Native Title law in almost two decades. Traditional owners from central Queensland will today present the Speaker of the Queensland Parliament with a Defence of Country Declaration opposing the $16 billion Carmichael project, which will cover more than 200 square kilometres and be one of the world’s largest black coal mines.

Abbott government resists US moves against coal power
The Abbott government has again put itself on a collision course with US President Barack Obama, this time over government funding for coal-fired power plants. After adopting a contrary position to the US on the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, about which a final decision is expected within days, the Abbott government has been leading international resistance to White House moves to strip back subsidies for fossil fuels. A leaked briefing paper, obtained by Fairfax Media, shows the government is using an international forum to frustrate efforts by the US, the United Kingdom and France to wind back export subsidies for new but environmentally harmful coal stations in third world countries.

‘Green’ dam linked to killings of six indigenous people in Guatemala
A planned mega-dam in Guatemala, whose carbon credits will be tradable under the EU’s emissions trading system, has been linked to grave human rights abuses, including the killing of six indigenous people, two of them children. Several European development banks and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) have provided funds for the $250m (£170m) Santa Rita dam.  But human rights groups back claims from the Mayan community that they were never consulted about the hydro project, which will forcibly displace thousands of people to generate 25MW of energy, mostly for export to neighbouring countries.

Built Environment

Electric cars make for cool cities
Replacing conventional vehicles with electric vehicles has the potential to reduce temperatures in cities, according to new research out of Hunan University in China and Michigan State University in the US.  The research, published in Scientific Reports, says because electric cars produce just 20 per cent of the heat of conventional cars, the switch would help reduce the urban heat island effect and have follow-on benefits from a reduction in energy consumption by airconditioners locally, leading to lower levels of carbon dioxide emissions.

Electric Black Cabs to be built in Coventry
Plans to make London’s iconic black cab green received a major boost today as Chinese manufacturer Geely revealed it would invest £250m in a new Coventry factory, creating up to 1,000 jobs. The London Taxi Company (LTI) owner said the new purpose built facility will focus on building the new electric and ultra-low emission taxis that are expected to hit the market in 2017, as well as on further research and development. London Mayor Boris Johnson is targeting taxis as part of wide-ranging efforts to crack down on the capital’s air pollution. He has said that all new London taxis will need to be able to operate without producing any emissions at the tailpipe from 2018.

Food Systems

850,000 Tons of Edible Food Thrown Out Annually in UK, Your Freezer May be the Solution
Iglo Group, Europe’s largest frozen food company, yesterday launched a coalition with leading waste reduction charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) with the objective of reducing food waste across Europe. The coalition is launching iFreeze, a campaign which will highlight that European households waste an average of €260 of food every year (Americans homes waste about $1,500 worth of food per year), and will provide advice and tips on how increased use of both freezing and frozen food can help to reduce waste and save money. The campaign is part of Iglo Group’s Forever Food Together (FFT) programme, launched in October 2014.




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.