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Friday 29 August 2014

Sustainable Development News

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

Review calls for Renewable Energy Target cuts: what it means
The long-awaited review of Australia’s Renewable Energy Target has been released and, as widely predicted, has recommended winding back or even scrapping the various parts of the scheme. We asked Conversation readers for their questions about the review, what it means for Australia’s renewable energy industry, and your household power bills. We answer the most pressing questions below.

RET may be switched off (Video and transcript)
Wind and solar companies say Australia’s clean energy industry will be destroyed if the Government accepts the recommendations of its review of the Renewable Energy Target. While the review predicts the scheme will benefit consumers with cheaper electricity after 2020, it has nevertheless recommended the Government either freeze it or cut the target. The country’s biggest energy retailers have welcomed the review, saying falling electricity demand made the scheme unworkable. And as Kerry Brewster reports, ongoing uncertainty surrounding the target has already led to investment paralysis in renewable energy projects.


You Almost Certainly Have Mites On Your Face
There are more than 48,000 species of mites. As far as we know, exactly two of those live on human faces. While their relatives mostly look like lozenges on spindly legs, face-mites are more like wall plugs—long cones with stubby legs at one end. They don’t look like much, and most of us have never looked at one at all. But these weird creatures are almost certainly the animals we spend the most time with. They live in our hair follicles, buried head-down, eating the oils we secrete, hooking up with each other near the surface, and occasionally crawling about the skin at night. They do this on my face. They probably do it on yours. A group of scientists led by Megan Thoemmes and Rob Dunn at North Carolina State University found that every adult in a small American sample had face-mites on their faces—something that was long suspected but never confirmed. If you want to find humanity’s best friend, ignore dogs; instead, swab a pore and grab a microscope.

NSW calls for national ban on shampoo additives that are choking the oceans
The NSW government has called for a national ban on the sale and production of shampoos and other products containing microplastics before they inflict worse damage on marine environments. Environment Minister Rob Stokes said on Thursday the government would convene an industry working group intended to eliminate the pollutant by 2016. “Anything that is manufactured that persists in the environment, we’d rather not see them there,” said Martina Doblin, an associate professor at the University of Technology, Sydney.

Wild Birds’ Songs, Feather Colors Changed by Mercury Contamination
Standing in the woods along the South River, Kelly Hallinger held the microphone up to capture the cacophony of songs, one at a time: the urgent, effervescent voice of the house wren; the teakettle whistle of the Carolina wren; and the sharp, shrill notes of the song sparrow. When she got back to Williamsburg with her tape recorder, Hallinger sorted through the hours of bird songs. She turned them into digital files in the computer, then analyzed them. The differences were striking: The wrens and sparrows along the contaminated South River were singing simpler, shorter, lower-pitched songs.

Economy and Business

What role does nature play in economic growth?
Strong economic growth enables people to improve their lives and creates space for new ideas to thrive. But such growth is often accompanied by environmental degradation, which diminishes human health and quality of life, threatens water supplies and compromises ecosystems, impeding growth for future generations. Moreover, short-term growth that erodes natural capital is vulnerable to boom-and-bust cycles, and can cause people who live close to the poverty line to fall far below it. Taking a longer-term view of growth and accounting for social, economic and environmental equity must be a top priority for the post-2015 development agenda. Discussion of the SDGs is now taking into consideration the need to incorporate food, water, and energy security, together with urban planning and biodiversity. But translating prospective goals into actions at the country level will not be feasible without measurable and meaningful indicators to guide policy and measure progress.

Waterways cleaned with mussel power
A range of projects are under way to restore the health of Okahu Bay [New Zealand]. One hundred years after the sewerage pipe was built, Ngati Whatua Orakei has launched a mussel reef restoration programme and is cleaning up the waterways that feed into Okahu Bay. For project manager Richelle Kahui-McConnell this has been seven years in the making. “We realised that because of the engineering of the bay, the water is never going to flush out how it used to. The marina and the hardstand where the boats are maintained stop the way the flushing used to happen.” But mussels, which were abundant in the bay in the 1970s, naturally filter water. On Saturday 40,000 mussels weighing two tonnes were placed in the bay by Orakei Water Sports waka ama crew with help from about 60 volunteers.  The mussels, which were donated by Westpac Mussels Distributors and Coromandel Mussel Kitchen, can filter up to 350 litres of water per mussel per day. They are not safe to eat and are there only for water treatment purposes.

[Ed: A great example of an ecosystem service. The mussels are providing a service by cleaning the water for free. More conventional clean up measures would otherwise cost a lot of money.]

Infosys proves going green is affordable with buildings experiment in India
Want to have a green building? Of course you do. Can you afford it? That’s the question. From Mumbai to Manchester, it’s the same old stumbling block that stops green projects getting off the ground. Environment costs money, lots of it, upfront. Sure, you might recoup it in terms of energy savings eventually, but meanwhile, those capital costs are just too prohibitive. In a ground-breaking energy-efficiency experiment, [Infosys,] the Indian IT giant built two separate wings on its Hyderabad campus – identical apart from their energy systems.

Bain’s 50% stake in Toms shoes shows faith in socially-minded business
What is the key to profit for the next generation of consumers? Bain Capital thinks it is purpose. Last week, the private equity firm took a 50% stake in Toms, a socially-conscious footwear company valued at $625m (£377m). Toms pioneered the “buy one give one” model of conscious commerce. They give a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair they sell. Toms will use this capital to expand more rapidly than it otherwise would be able to on its own. Bain will bring operational expertise including a new CEO to oversee the expansion and leverage its experience growing retail brands such as Canada Goose, Michaels and Dunkin’ Brands.

Politics and Society

From Tuvalu to Kiribati, the outlook for Pacific island states is perilous
Although island states in Asia-Pacific and other regions share several common challenges such as small size, remoteness, limited natural and human resources, and exposure to natural hazards, some challenges are unique to the Pacific. Geographically, the Pacific island states are more remote from world markets than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. Their growing populations are spread over many small and far-flung islands, adding to the difficulties in domestic trade, providing basic services and building infrastructure. They are more prone to natural disasters such as cyclones, hurricanes and floods. Therefore, climate change not only poses a major challenge to achieving sustainable development, but it threatens the very existence of many of them.

Built Environment

Global ‘roadmap’ shows where to put roads without costing the earth
“The best thing you could do for the Amazon is to blow up all the roads.” These might sound like the words of an eco-terrorist, but it’s actually a direct quote from Professor Eneas Salati, a forest climatologist and one of Brazil’s most respected scientists. Many scientists share Salati’s anxieties because we’re living in the most explosive era of road expansion in human history. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that by 2050 we will have 60% more roads than we did in 2010. That’s about 25 million kilometres of new paved roads — enough to circle the Earth more than 600 times. In new research published today in Nature, we’ve developed a global “roadmap” of where to put those roads to avoid damaging the environment. Our maps are also available to the public on a new website.

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