Sustainable Development News

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

Temperature hiatus periods to become a ‘thing of the past’ as emissions soar
The momentum of global warming caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases is likely to overwhelm natural cooling processes within decades, according to research by the University of NSW. Global temperatures have largely plateaued during the past 15 years as natural variability – including oceans absorbing more heat and volcanic activity – have acted to stall warming at the planet’s surface. However, such “hiatuses” are increasingly unlikely if carbon emissions continue on their present trajectory, and will be “a thing of the past” by the century’s end, according to a paper published in Geophysical Research Letters. “From about 2030, it’s highly unlikely that we will get one of these cooling decades,” said Nicola Maher, a UNSW PhD-candidate and lead author of the paper. “When it does cool, it will not be enough to overcome the warming.”

Global warming is already here and could be irreversible, UN panel says
The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Monday sent governments a final draft of its synthesis report, which combines three earlier, gigantic documents by the Nobel Prize-winning group. There is little in the report that wasn’t in the other more-detailed versions, but the language is more stark and the report attempts to connect the different scientific disciplines studying problems caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and gas. The 127-page draft, obtained by The Associated Press, paints a harsh warning of what’s causing global warming and what it will do to humans and the environment. It also describes what can be done about it.


Papua New Guinea set to decide on RH logging renewal
Papua New Guinea’s National Forest Board will consider a Malaysian company’s bid to continue to logging virgin rainforest in order to plant palm oil. The clear-felling around Pomio on the island of East New Britain has been hotly contested by some locals, as well as international groups like Greenpeace and Global Witness. Malaysian company Rimbunan Hijau (RH) says it is bringing jobs, infrastructure and long-term investment to the area. RH says it has the support of the local people, but some locals object to their land being cleared for plantations. The land is being used under PNG’s controversial Special Agriculture and Business Leases (SABLs). Last year a Commission of Inquiry into SABLs recommended almost all leases be revoked, but there was no recommendation for Pomio because one of the three commissioners simply never handed in his report.

Miners and environmentalists team up to save Tasmanian devil
Environmental experts have formed an unlikely partnership with mining companies in the fight to save the Tasmanian devil from extinction. Scientists said the unique conditions inside a mine can create a safe haven for the endangered marsupial. Workers at the Savage River mine in Tasmania’s north-west have just completed a two-day workshop where they were briefed by experts from the State Government’s Save The Tasmanian Devil program.

Tasmanian forest deal up in smoke after logging protection repeals
The Tasmanian Liberal government has succeeded in unwinding key parts of the peace deal to end the state’s forest wars. The legislation gives the timber industry greater access to forests, makes them harder to set aside from logging, and cuts out environmentalist consultation. Around 400,000 hectares of high conservation value forests protected by the peace deal will be placed in future logging zones. Access to reserves for rare rainforest timbers was also confirmed. The Liberal government’s bill, which is passing through the state parliament, met an election pledge to “tear up” the deal reached between industry, union and environmental groups over nearly five years of arduous talks. “For the first time in our state’s history the Green tide is being turned and the balance is being reset,” Resources Minister Paul Harriss said. “We are rebuilding the forest industry, making clear that there will be no more lock-ups, and working to remove reserves from the clutches of the Green locksmiths.”

Economy and Business

The North Face and Patagonia develop dueling standards for down
For decades, The North Face and Patagonia have competed in the marketplace for outerwear, backpacks and pullovers. Now they’re engaged in a smackdown over down – specifically over which company has put forward the strongest standards to protect ducks and geese, whose feathers are made into down insulation, from cruel practices on farms and in slaughterhouses. This month, The North Face announced that it would begin selling down next year that complies with its Responsible Down Standard (RDS), which it describes as “the broadest and most comprehensive approach to animal welfare available in the down supply chain”. Patagonia says that’s simply not so, and that its own Traceable Down Standard provides “the highest assurance of animal welfare in the apparel industry”.

China To Unleash $16 Billion For Electric Car Charging Stations To Boost Driver Interest In Battery-Powered Cars
China is considering a massive government program to build more charging stations for electric vehicles and boost demand for the eco-friendly cars. The policy, which could provide as much as 100 billion yuan ($16 billion) in funding, will be announced soon, two people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News this week. Bloomberg said its sources asked not to be named because the policy discussions are private, and they declined to say how long the program would last or which types of electric cars could use the chargers. Fast and easy access to charging stations is seen as critical for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles. Most drivers are accustomed to pulling over at a nearby gas station whenever the tank runs low, so the idea of being stuck on the road with a dying battery and nowhere to charge has deterred many car shoppers from going electric.

Sydney University creates waves with investment ban on coal
The University of Sydney has become the first institution of its type in Australia to halt further investments in coalmining, a move likely to send ripples through the funds industry. On Monday, the university said it had halted investments in Whitehaven Coal, the miner developing the controversial Maules Creek open-cut coalmine, which is the largest such project in the country. As part of a review being undertaken by the Mercer Group, however, Sydney University told Fairfax Media the bar on investments extended beyond Whitehaven.

Rather than desecrate the Arctic should business mine the moon?
An obvious solution to enabling a sustainable future is to consume less. This is a laudable goal but in a society driven by consumption, it’s not an achievable one. The world’s population needs to both consume less and expand its resource base and seeking energy and raw materials from space is one way to do this. But surely this could never be economically viable? At today’s prices perhaps not. Yet in 20 years it is a safe prediction that increasing scarcity will have driven up the cost of energy and many critical metals by at least 10 or 20 times in real terms. Space access technologies will also have improved. By the 2030s or 2040s, obtaining extraterrestrial resources will be cost effective. Some companies and governments have recognised this future reality and are making ambitious plans.

Politics and Society

Australian MP says he ‘got it wrong’ on dumping coal waste on Great Barrier Reef
Coalition MP George Christensen has admitted he was wrong to support the dumping of millions of tonnes of dredge spoil from Abbot Point, into the Great Barrier Reef. He says he will now look at other options. In an open letter to Whitsunday Times and Whitsunday Coast Guardian, Christensen said, “Politicians don’t often say they got it wrong, but here it is: I got it wrong.”

Push for uranium and nuclear continues despite warnings from Japan
Former Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan is in Australia this week on a speaking tour to warn against nuclear energy after his country faced the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown that began in March 2011. In his speaking tour, Facing the Fallout, Mr Kan on Tuesday addressed a packed Perth Town Hall with Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, ahead of a site visit to the new Carnegie Wave Energy facility in Fremantle organised by the Sustainable Energy Association of Australia, which was eyeing opportunities for its technology in Japan. Yet despite the dangers exposed by the Fukushima crisis, soaring costs – up to €8.5 billion for a new reactor in Europe – and intensive water use 50 per cent greater than coal fired power generators, the push for uranium mining and nuclear energy continues to intensify.

All coal licenses declared illegal by Indian Supreme Court
In a landmark ruling, the Indian Supreme Court has declared that all coal licences issued by successive governments between 1993 and 2010 were “not fair and transparent,” and are now void. The court has also decreed that the licenses were approved without any form of competitive bidding and in a manner not complicit with the country’s laws. The court is subsequently examining whether 218 licenses should be cancelled. Indian authorities have stated that the county has consequently lost $210 billion (£134bn) because the coalfield rights were sold off cheaply.

11 environmental disasters Narendra Modi blessed in his first 100 days
We get it: India reposed faith in a leader who promised achhe din–”good times,” good governance, transparency, development, jobs, jobs, jobs. Now nobody can argue that prime minister Narendra Modi does not mean business. So his government has gone about eliminating the policy paralyses that many claimed ailed the previous regime. This meant dismantling roadblocks that hamper economic growth. But what also happens to be under fire: laws and rules that safeguard India’s environment, forests, wildlife, and tribal rights.

Tree loses out in battle between Aldi and Ecology
A month long battle by staff and customers of the Ecology building society to save a magnificent 100 foot high lime tree that has stood for 250 years in Silsden, West Yorkshire and overhangs the society’s own grounds ended on Tuesday after the tree was unceremoniously felled in just five minutes – to make way for an Aldi supermarket. Contractors with chainsaws moved in yesterday after a tree preservation order was revoked and Bradford council gave the go-ahead to the supermarket giant to destroy the tree, half of whose branches reach into land occupied by the Ecology. The contractors even asked Ecology for access to their grounds to help chop the tree down – which Ecology flatly refused.


Environmental education outreach program connects with Broken Hill schools
An environmental education outreach has given Broken Hill students in far-west New South Wales a chance to learn about their surrounding environment and how it can be best conserved. Teachers from the Department of Education and Communities have visited the city this week for an annual Outback Outreach, which is held in rural areas to engage young people in sustainability programs. Yesterday students visited the nearby White Leeds Wetlands Reserve to learn about conservation projects and their benefits for the surrounding arid landscape.

Food Systems

Will polystyrene cancer concerns prompt brands to change?
Polystyrene foam packaging has been a topic of environmental debate for decades, and several international brands have made moves to phase it out. This slow trend may have been accelerated last month when the National Research Council (NRC) affirmed the National Toxicology Program’s 2011 finding that the organic compound styrene can “reasonably be anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” In terms of consumer hazards, the biggest styrene concern is with food packaging, as studies have shown that this substance can leech out of polystyrene takeout food and drink containers, says Mike Schade of Safer Chemicals. “If you drink coffee or soup or eat Chinese food from a polystyrene foam container you can potentially be exposed to this chemical, which government agencies consider reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”


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