Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Energy and Climate Change

McCrone: Electricity demand – the blue whale in the room
The chart produced by my colleague Tom Rowlands-Rees, head of Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s energy smart technologies team, shows how electricity demand unfolds by country, according to its stage of economic development. Not only that, but an extrapolation of that chart into the future gives a fascinating insight into how it might evolve country-by-country. Future electricity demand is not so much the elephant in the room as the blue whale in the room. Energy policies around the world reflect forecasts of demand that draw heavily on conventional assumptions. If those forecasts turn out to be wrong by even one percentage point per year, then the difference over 25 years can be so enormous as to make a that country’s energy investment choices look misconceived and wasteful.

Switching to biofuels could place unsustainable demands on water use
As the world moves towards renewable sources of energy, it faces an accompanying challenge: water scarcity. The intensive water use in the coal, oil, gas and nuclear industries is well-documented, but if we want to encourage a faster transition to renewables we must also contemplate the water use of the alternatives. It is a great challenge to limit the drain on land and water resources now the transition has taken off. Bioenergy, hydropower, and wind, solar and geothermal energy all require substantial amounts of land and water resources. Given limitations to the availability of land and water, what energy scenarios are feasible in the long run?

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Norway’s $1.15 trillion wealth fund curbs coal investments in new industry blow
Norway’s parliament reached an agreement to ban the country’s $US890 billion ($1.15 trillion) sovereign wealth from investing in companies that base at least 30 per cent of their business on coal or revenue from the fuel. The decision, backed by all parties, will be announced in the Oslo-based legislature’s Finance Committee on Thursday, according to a statement from the ruling Conservative Party. The ban could include 50 to 75 companies with an investment of 35 billion ($5.8 billion) to 40 billion kroner, according to an estimate by the Norwegian Finance Minister Siv Jensen. “Investing in coal companies poses both a climate-related and economic risk,” said Svein Flaatten, a Conservative member of the committee.

Norway fund could trigger wave of large fossil fuel divestments, say experts
Norway’s decision to dump all coal-focused investments from its $900bn sovereign wealth fund could unleash a wave of divestment from other large funds, according to investment experts. The fund, the largest in the world, is one of the top 10 investors in the global coal industry. The move, agreed late on Wednesday, is one of the most significant victories to date for a fast-growing and UN-backed fossil-fuel divestment campaign. It will affect $9bn-$10bn (£5.8-£6.5bn) of coal-related investments, according to the Norwegian government.

Environment and Biodiversity

QEII National Trust facing conservation bid backlog
Kiwi landowners are signing up enough property for conservation that the QEII National Trust is battling to get across each year’s offers within budget. For every 120 covenants the trust established each year, there was a backlog of at least another 50 proposals that could not be processed because of funding constraints, trust chairman James Guild said. The trust, which yesterday marked its 4000th covenant, receives around $4.27 million in the Budget round each year – a small percentage of annual conservation funding. An environmental researcher has voiced concern concern over the amount of funding provided to the trust, given a pressing need to safeguard biodiversity on the 70 per cent of New Zealand land that is privately owned.

David Attenborough calls on ordinary people to help save Africa’s elephants
David Attenborough has said Africa’s rhinos and elephants face extinction from poaching, possibly within a decade, calling on people to support the conservation charities who stand between those species and oblivion. The pioneering wildlife broadcaster said the survival of Africa’s great beasts, known collectively as megafauna, was dependent on the interventions of governments and conservationists. “I’m not going to say we don’t care about protecting rhinos or elephants or African megafauna. If you said ‘yes, they’re all going to die within the next 10 years’ you would stop trying to protect them and they would die within the next 10 years,” he said.

Economy and Business

Are you secretly your company’s chief sustainability officer?
Every office has at least one: a sustainability champion who wants to make their workplace and company more sustainable. But everyone who cares about social and environmental responsibility also faces plenty of challenges. Maybe you only have disposable plastic tableware in the break room. Maybe your company makes big bucks by selling landfill-clogging one-off products. Maybe your visibility into your supply chain stops at the front door. What can you do about it? Share your experiences to help us get more insight into the real barriers to sustainability at work – and weigh in to help us crowdsource solutions. Tell us about something you’ve tried to improve, the difficulties you faced and the results.

Levi Strauss, Gap, Autodesk Join 24 Companies Supporting California’s Sweeping Clean Energy Bill
Today, 24 companies with a substantial footprint in California, including Ben & Jerry’s, eBay, Gap, Levi Strauss, The North Face and Sungevity, announced their support for SB-350, the “Golden State’s Standard 50-50-50,” that sets new benchmarks for increasing renewable energy and energy efficiency, and decreasing petroleum use by 2030. Their support was communicated in a letter sent to the bill’s author, Senate President pro Tempore, Kevin de León. Most of companies are members of BICEP (Business for Innovative Climate & Clean Energy Policy) or signatories of the California Climate Declaration, both projects of Ceres, a nonprofit sustainability group mobilizing business leadership on global sustainability challenges.

Waste and the Circular Economy

War on plastic in our Gulf
NEW ZEALAND – How do we stop plastic trash entering the Hauraki Gulf? Any beach walk shows it’s a pressing problem, and one Aucklanders must solve. Plastic is washed into stormwater drains, blown into water courses, dumped on the foreshore or at sea … one way or another, it finds its way into the water and then breaks up, potentially to be ingested by seabirds, fish and shellfish. Last month, on this page, we appealed for ideas and received a larger response than expected.

Plastic bag phase-out plan rubbished
A campaign calling on the government to phase out single-use plastic bags has been shot down by the environment minister, who says they make up a “tiny portion” of total waste. The campaign, started by marine conservation organisation Our Seas Our Future this week, calls on the government to phase out single-use plastic bags commonly used in supermarkets, or introduce mandatory charges for them. More than 7500 people had “signed” an online petition supporting the campaign as of Thursday morning and more than 20,000 have joined a Facebook page dedicated to the cause.

Building a Circular Economy: How Ford, Novelis Created a Truly Closed Loop for Automotive Aluminum
The concept of “closed-loop” recycling seems to offer a viable solution to the make-take-waste culture and is now putting key theories of the circular economy to the test… One of the best examples of this is closed-loop recycling of aluminum in the auto industry. Novelis has been producing aluminum for the automotive industry for more than 40 years, but only recently have we been able to form such a truly integrated partnership as we have with Ford Motor Company. This partnership has enabled us to collaborate and build an infrastructure that is ensuring Ford’s automotive aluminum is recycled in a truly closed loop, recreating the same automotive sheet again and again and again.

Politics and Society

Backyard veggies the key to sustainability engagement
It’s not talk about climate change that best convinces executive types to embrace sustainability, according to sustainable design engineer Roman Spur – it’s talking fresh homegrown lettuce, working less and living more. The former Cundall sustainable buildings designer, who now consults with Viridis, has become a motivational speaker and trainer in the art of DIY sustainability, an idea that’s starting to catch hold for strata developers, body corporates, colleges, preschools, primary schools and retirement villages. Spur was retrenched from Cundall when it closed its Brisbane office three years ago, and decided to turn it into an opportunity to change direction and transform the unused backyard of his rented apartment into a sustainable productive ecosystem.

Book review: Tom Doig on The Coal Face, and his concerns for Morwell
AUSTRALIA – Journalist Tom Doig’s recently released book The Coal Face is an eloquent and forensic investigation into the Hazelwood mine fire and its impact on local residents. Mr Doig spoke to an extensive number of local residents during the fire and has maintained an active engagement with the community since. His investigations into the way mine owner GDF Suez managed – or failed to manage – rehabilitation and fire protection infrastructure led him to the same conclusion as the first inquiry – that the fire was an inevitable disaster waiting to happen… As much as it is a literary and forensic reporting of one of Australia’s biggest environmental disasters, it is also the story of how a community found its voice and refused to be marginalised or have their ongoing trauma swept under the rug by government and industry.

These Photos Tackle An Uncomfortable Question: What If There Are Just Too Many People On Earth?
In the world of solutions to environmental problems, one topic rarely gets any discussion: Birth control. By 2050, the U.N. estimates that the human population will hit 9.6 billion, putting unprecedented pressure on the planet’s energy and agriculture systems. But that estimate tends to be accepted as inevitable, rather than as a number that could (or should) change. A new book called Over tries to tell the story of population in a different way. It shares photos of a world that’s arguably already overcrowded, rather than focusing on statistics alone. Then, it talks about what we might do differently.

Healing broken hearts in Uganda
Carl Gaede hears stories every day that break his heart. When asked to tell them, he refers people to written accounts. I found one from the refugee camp where he works. ‘My name is Agnes and I’m 30 years old. One day I went with three friends to dig for food in our garden. The rebels came with their guns and killed my two friends and raped me in front of my two-year-old twins. Because they cried in helplessness my twins were also killed in front of me. After coming to Nakivale Refugee Settlement Camp my nine-year-old daughter was raped and left unable to speak due to the trauma of her experience. I wanted to die, but I felt mostly dead anyway.’

Gaede was working a cushy office job in Wisconsin seven years ago when he decided to move to Uganda to help child soldiers and other victims of the civil war. He was in New Zealand this month looking for new sponsors for his trauma counselling organisation called Tutapona meaning ‘we shall be healed’ in Swahili, which TEAR Fund supports. Gaede had worked his way up the career ladder as a psychotherapist and was set to live the American dream with a house, a family and two cars. But in 2006 he watched the documentary Invisible Children about displaced Ugandan children, with his wife. “We were crying and looking at each other helplessly. I was so angry.”

Brussels moves to limit coal lobby’s influence on pollution standards
European countries must not allow industry experts in their national delegations to lobby for weaker coal standards, the European commission’s top environment official has said. The move follows revelations by the Guardian that big energy lobbyists included in British delegations to Brussels mounted a sustained and aggressive drive for weaker limits on toxic pollutants that are responsible for over 20,000 deaths a year in the UK alone. The new instruction by the commission’s director-general for the environment, Karl Falkenberg, was outlined in a letter to his counterparts in all 28 EU countries, dated 20 May and seen by the Guardian.

Food Systems

A handful of corporations could hold answer to crisis in seafood industry
The vast expanse of the world’s seafood trade is under the control of a handful of companies, with just 13 of them controlling 40% of the largest and most valuable fish stocks, according to new research. However, in an era of illegal fishing, collapsing fish stocks and unnecessary waste of marine living resources, this concentration may actually offer an opportunity to improve seafood’s supply chain.


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