Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Top Story

Organisation funds solar power projects for charities, crowd funded by the community
Two years after it started, a non-profit group is about to start work on their fifth solar installation for an Australian charity, funded entirely by donations.  On April 22, 2013 a group of concerned Adelaide residents created CORENA (Citizens Own Renewable Energy Network Australia). “It was born out of a sense of frustration because there are thousands and thousands of people who want to do something about climate change and want to do something about the transition to renewable energy to reduce carbon emissions,” CORENA chair Margaret Hender said.

[Ed: This is a warm fuzzy read about people giving up their own money for the common good J]

Energy and Climate Change

Renewables at ‘pinch point’ as hard economics trumps green idealism
Yet another major investment bank has concluded that renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar are now competing with fossil fuels in many parts of the world, and will play a critical role in helping meet ambitious climate targets to be negotiated in Paris later this year. HSBC, in a research report entitled “The Rise of Renewables,” says renewable energy is now becoming mainstream, boosted by a shift away from “green idealism” – that underpinned many over-generous and badly managed subsidy schemes – to “hard economics”, where the costs of the technology will win out over fossil fuels.

Kiwi scientists find ways to cut methane emissions by up to 90 per cent
New Zealand scientists have unveiled major leaps toward cutting greenhouse gas emissions from our belching sheep and cattle, with animal-safe compounds that can slash methane emissions by up to 90 per cent. Curbing the release of methane gas from ruminant livestock, such as sheep and cattle, has been a long-standing headache among farmers and scientists. The methane emissions amount to almost a third of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, and is the largest contributor compared with other sources.

Cars That Run on Air and Water? Audi Rolls Out E-Diesel
Cars that run on a synthetic fuel, made from water and air, represent the cutting-edge of innovation now sweeping the auto industry. In a German factory, Audi is making “e-diesel” that uses— rather than emits—carbon dioxide. The carbon-neutral fuel contains no sulfur or fossil oil. If it catches on and is produced for a mass market, it could make internal combustion engines much cleaner in the future. “Synthetic diesel using CO2 is a huge success,” says Germany’s Federal Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka, who showed her support last week by putting the first five liters (1.3 gallons) into her work car, an Audi A8.

Environment and Biodiversity

Leaked oil in Tauranga Harbour came from Mobil pipeline
NEW ZEALAND – Heavy fuel oil spilled from a ship bunkering at the Port of Tauranga has washed up along the shores of the city’s inner waterways – leaving a “boiling black mess”.  At least three birds were found oiled and taken to a Tauranga wildlife sanctuary following the spill at the port on Monday. Mobil has confirmed the leak that led to oil being spilled into Tauranga Habour came from one of its pipelines during a ship’s refuelling at the Mount Maunganui wharf. “Mobil appreciates the efforts of the Bay of Plenty Regional Council in responding promptly and effectively to the incident. We will reimburse the council for any direct costs [emphasis added] incurred in the spill response and clean-up.”

Amazon: 1% of tree species store 50% of region’s carbon
About 1% of all the tree species in the Amazon account for half of the carbon locked in the vast South American rainforest, a study has estimated. Although the region is home to an estimated 16,000 tree species, researchers found that just 182 species dominated the carbon storage process. Amazonia is vital to the Earth’s carbon cycle, storing more of the element than any other terrestrial ecosystem. The findings appear in the journal Nature Communications… The findings build on a study published in Science in October 2013 that found that despite being home to an estimated 390 billion trees – made up by 16,000 species – just 227 “hyperdominant” species accounted for half of Amazonia’s total trees.

Hobby beekeeping takes off
New Zealand is abuzz with enthusiasm over the humble bee, as hundreds of people a year sign up to hobby beekeeping.  John Hartnell, chairman of the Federated Farmers Bee Industry Group, said the last three years had seen numbers across the country explode.  “We’ve got over 600 new beekeepers a year coming in. This year will probably be even greater than that.  We have an expectation that probably, come Christmas time, we might have 6000 beekeepers in the country and we might be heading towards 600,000 hives.” Hartnell said the increase was a positive for New Zealand, as beekeepers played “a massive part in our agricultural and horticultural sector”.

National beekeeping industry body wants to open Northern Territory public lands to honey producers
AUSTRALIA – A national beekeeping industry body is pushing for more public land to be available for use by honey producers in the Northern Territory. The Honey Bee and Pollination Program has released a series of factsheets to promote and enable the understanding of why beekeepers want access to public lands. Beekeeping advisor to the program, James Kershaw said public lands are a “beekeepers paradise”. “[The bees] are away from chemicals, agriculture; it makes beekeeping so much easier and gets you nice, big, fat, healthy bees for future honey crops and pollination,” he said.

Air pollution costs Europe $1.6tn a year in early deaths and disease, say WHO
The financial cost of air pollution in Europe stands at more than $1.6tn (£1.5tn) a year, a study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) has found, equating to about a tenth of the GDP of the continent. While air pollution has long been known to be a major environmental burden, the costs in human and economic terms have not been categorised before.  The costs come in the form of 600,000 premature deaths each year, and the sickness caused to hundreds of thousands of other people from preventable causes, such as pollution from small particles that come from the exhausts of diesel vehicles, and nitrogen dioxide, a gas that can inhibit breathing in vulnerable people.

Economy and Business

Vatican presses politicians on climate change
The Vatican Science Academy has challenged politicians to end their “infatuation” with a form of economic growth that is ruining the Earth. The academy said that nations were measuring their wealth by GDP (Gross Domestic Product), taking no account of the harm caused by business practises. It urged countries to act as stewards of God’s creation. The statements are likely to influence the Pope’s coming Encyclical on climate change. An Cambridge Economics professor, Partha Dasgupta, told the academy’s climate conference in St Peter’s Basilica: “GDP is a disgraceful index because it does not count depreciation of our assets – including damage to Mother Nature, the most fundamental asset we have.”

Argan oil: the cost of the beauty industry’s latest wonder ingredient
Argan oil has gone from a natural, tribal ingredient to one of the most prized oils in the world as cosmetics companies have woken up to its anti-ageing properties. The plant oil is produced from the kernels found inside the argan nut, which is found inside the fruit of the argan tree, endemic to Morocco.  Women’s co-operatives have sprung up throughout the argan-producing region but not all are as co-operative as they make out. The argan tree remains under threat from overuse, deforestation and even goats.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Study shows N leaching reductions possible
NEW ZEALAND – An ongoing DairyNZ project has shown it may be possible to reduce nitrogen leaching on dairy farms by as much as 50 per cent at only a small loss of profitability. The study has found that using lower N inputs, a stand-off pad, higher breeding worth cows at a lower stocking rate reduced N leaching by 40-50 per cent at the organisation’s Pastoral 21 project at Scott Farm in Hamilton. The project hopes to find strategies that reduce N loss on farms without compromising profitability.

Politics and Society

Direct action’s fitness for tougher emissions cuts questioned
Several submissions sent to the Abbott government have questioned the ability of its direct action climate plan to meet tougher emissions reduction targets that Australia will need to adopt after 2020. While the government has suggested direct action will be at the core of efforts to cut emissions in coming decades, submissions from a broad spectrum of industry and expert observers to an official review of post-2020 targets have questioned how sustainable this would be. In its submission on post-2020 targets, the Australian Industry Group warned that continuing to buy carbon cuts – the central activity of the $2.55 billion direct action plan – beyond 2020 would require “very substantial” budget commitments, that would likely grow.

Greens propose deep post-2020 carbon emissions cuts to help limit global warming
Australia should aim to reach “near-zero” carbon emissions by 2040 as the country’s contribution to global efforts to limit dangerous climate change, Greens leader Christine Milne said. The goal  is among targets outlined by Senator Milne as part of the Greens’ policy to lower carbon pollution to ensure there is at least a 75 per cent chance of keeping global temperature increases to less than 2 degrees of pre-industrial levels.

Shell and BP alone eclipse renewable energy sector on access to ministers
Fossil fuel companies enjoy far greater access to UK government ministers than renewable energy companies or climate campaigns, an analysis by the Guardian has revealed. Shell, the fossil fuel multi-national, has had at least 112 meetings with ministers since the last general election, and its rival, BP, at least 79 meetings. But this outweighs the number of meetings that ministers granted to renewable energy companies.  Twenty-three leading companies and two trade organisations in the renewable sector were given a combined total of 119 meetings with ministers over the same period.

Super trawler opponents ‘misled’ over Liberal Party pre-election promise
AUSTRALIA – A Tasmanian recreational fishing group whose support for the Liberal Party was influential during last year’s state election believes it was misled. The Stop The Trawler Alliance called off an advertising campaign targeting the Liberals last February, after assurances the party shared its opposition to factory fishing trawlers. An email detailing the assurance and sent by Premier Will Hodgman’s chief of staff Brad Stansfield on February 21, 2014, has been tabled in State Parliament by the Greens leader, Kim Booth

Food Systems

Marine mammal casualties an inevitable risk of Geelong Star operations: AFMA
The killing or injuring of marine mammals is an inevitable part of the Geelong Star trawler’s operation, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) says. Four dolphins and two seals were killed by the trawler, operated by Seafish Tasmania, nine days ago during its first outing on Australian waters. AFMA chief executive James Findlay told ABC 936 Hobart while everything was being done to prevent all mammal deaths, there was still some inherent risk. “Unfortunately, it’s a bit like driving your car down the road to get some groceries and hitting a kangaroo,” he said.

Farmer numbers down for pilot riparian planting project
NEW ZEALAND – Pilot riparian management workshops in Murchison, Pelorus and Golden Bay attracted only handfuls of  the region’s dairy farmers. Nelson-Marlborough regional coordinator for Landcare Trust Barbara Stuart said attendance at the workshops, held earlier this month, was disappointing and gave little indication of impending  deadlines Fonterra requires of its suppliers under its Sustainable Dairy Water Accord. The accord requires  50 per cent of farms with waterways to have riparian planting plans in  place by May 31 next year and  half of those farms to have completed their riparian   commitments  by May 31 2020 with full implementation by all farmers by 2030.

Built Environment

UTS continues efficiency drive with new high-performance building
AUSTRALIA – The University of Technology Sydney’s $1 billion redevelopment plan continues to bear fruit with a 6 Star Green Star health and science building officially opened this week. The $154 million, 14,000 square-metre building is the third major contribution to UTS’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan, following the opening of the Frank Gehry-designed Dr Chau Chak Wing Building and the Engineering and IT Building. The university has set itself a 2020 reduction target of 30 per cent based on 2007 levels. Deputy vice chancellor for resources Patrick Woods told The Fifth Estate the emissions reduction goal was ambitious because the university would be twice its size in floor space by 2020.

Green retail project named Victorian development of the year
AUSTRALIA – The $300 million redevelopment of Highpoint shopping centre in Maribyrnong was named Victoria’s development of the year at the 2015 Property Council of Australia/Rider Levett Bucknall Innovation and Excellence Awards held in Melbourne this week.  Owned jointly by GPT Wholesale Shopping Centre Fund and Highpoint Property Group, the redevelopment project included the design and construction of two new malls, a fresh food market and a new four-deck 7000+ berth car park, as well as upgrades to HVAC systems and greening of existing car parking. GPT set ambitious targets of 40 per cent reduction in energy use compared to the pre-refurbishment baseline, 40 per cent reduction in water use and a diversion of 40 per cent of ongoing operational waste from landfill.


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