Sustainable Development News

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

Shared Solar could be the future of distributed PV installations
In states such as Queensland and South Australia, one quarter of all customers have rooftop solar on their homes, and many are looking at solar for “self consumption” or even as a means to quit the grid. Many others, though, are missing out. Renters can’t get access, inner city and apartment dwellers have nowhere to put them. The answer, according to the US-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is “shared solar”. In a major new report released this week, NREL says that one half of all distributed solar installations in the US could be in the form of “shared solar”. And shared solar could be the key to expanding the potential customer base of solar to 100 per cent  of homes and businesses.

Ecology Building Society and Abundance team up with £250,000 solar investment – 29 Apr 2015
Two of the UK’s leading green investment specialists are to work together for the first time, after Ecology Building Society announced it has made an investment of £250,000 through the Abundance online crowd-funding platform. Ecology is to make the investment in the Oakapple Berwickshire project, which plans to install 749 solar panels boasting 2,595kW of capacity on homes owned by the Berwickshire Housing Association in locations including Duns, Eyemouth and Coldstream. The building society will invest alongside members of the public who can invest as little as £5 in the project through the Abundance online platform. The project will offer an effective rate of return of 7.5 per cent, paid twice yearly to investors as cash payments over the 20 year term of the project.

Adelaide and SA government team up to reduce emissions
South Australia and Adelaide have signed two international climate change agreements, the Compact of States and Regions and the Compact of Mayors, becoming the first state and city council pair to do so. The agreement means the SA government and Adelaide City Council will report on emissions reduction progress annually at an international level. “South Australia was the first Australian state to put in place legislation with a specific greenhouse emissions reduction target,” Premier Jay Weatherill said. “Our target was a 60 per cent reduction on 1990 levels by 2050 – and the current measures show that we’ve already achieved a 10 per cent reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels.

Countries that lead the switch to clean energy will reap the financial rewards
…The reality is that acting to protect the climate does not impose a financial penalty. Being one of the first countries drastically reducing its emissions is not a disadvantage. Both developed and developing nations are moving rapidly to renewable energy sources, not because it is morally the right thing to do, but because it’s the route to prosperity. The numbers show that there is a strong first mover advantage.

Wind power pushes up ScottishPower’s green energy earnings
Offshore wind helped push up first quarter earnings from ScottishPower’s green energy business by 61 per cent year-on-year, according to the latest results from parent company Iberdrola. The company’s renewables portfolio delivered EBITDA for the first quarter of just over €149m, a substantial increase on the €93m recorded a year earlier. The rise was attributed in large part to a “standout performance” from the £1.6bn West of Duddon Sands wind farm, which saw production grow around 15 per cent to 1,249 megawatt hours

Sydney storm: are extreme rains and flash floods increasing?
The extreme rainfall that hit New South Wales over the past week caused flash-flooding and resulted in deaths and homes destroyed. While analysis shows that these events are not unprecedented, are they becoming more common? In research published recently in Nature Climate Change, we show that extreme rainfall in Sydney is increasing, but mostly during the summer. Longer periods of extreme rainfall, such as the event we’ve just seen, haven’t changed or have actually decreased.

Fossil fuel companies defy warnings on burning reserves
The world’s biggest fossil fuel companies are taking a defiant stance against warnings that reserves of coal, oil and gas are already several times larger than can be burned if the world’s governments are to meet their pledge to tackle climate change. Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company, said on Monday that global warming was “an environmental crisis predicted by flawed computer models”. Another coal giant, Glencore Xstrata, said on Tuesday that governments would fail to implement measures to cut carbon emissions. Oil and gas major ExxonMobil said new reserves in the Arctic and Canadian tar sands must be exploited, moves scientists deem incompatible with tackling global warming.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Divestment pledges reach half a billion dollars
A spike in DivestFossilFuels pledges this month means foundations, philanthropists and super funds have now committed to keeping over half a billion dollars out of fossil fuels. April has seen a 500 per cent increase in pledges to the DivestFossilFuels website, which was launched earlier this year. Established by the Climate Advocacy Association’s Ross Knowles and Dr John McKinnon, the platform allows Australian foundations, philanthropists and super funds to pledge to divest their shares and funds from “all direct investment in the prospecting, extraction, transport, sale and the burning of fossil fuels”.

Environment and Biodiversity

Indigenous community signs landmark agreement with University of Queensland to develop spinifex ‘nanofibre’ industry
AUSTRLAIA – A landmark deal between a Queensland university and an Indigenous community in the state’s north-west is paving the way for a new industry that relies on a native plant. Researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology have broken down the plant to look at its microscopic “building blocks”.  Professor Darren Martin said experiments revealed the plant had extremely strong microscopic fibres with properties similar to Kevlar, the synthetic material used in body armour to stop bullets.

WWF – Over 80% of future deforestation confined to just 11 places
Jakarta: Eleven places in the world – 10 of which are in the tropics – will account for over 80 per cent of forest loss globally by 2030, according to research released today by WWF. Up to 170 million hectares of forest could be lost between 2010 and 2030 in these “deforestation fronts” if current trends continue, according to findings in the latest chapter of WWF’s Living Forests Report series. These places contain some of the richest wildlife in the world, including endangered species such as orangutans and tigers. All are home to indigenous communities.

Harbour light ‘attracts ship-damaging creatures’
Artificial lighting in harbours is attracting sea creatures that damage ships and boats, a study suggests.  Scientists believe that the night-time illumination is altering the behaviour of some animals that attach to vessels’ hulls. Keel worms, for example, are lured in by the lights. Other shade-loving animals were deterred by the brightness, seeking darker waters elsewhere. The study is published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Wild dogs keeping Goldfields’ roo numbers down not shooters says pastoralist
A pastoralist says wild dogs, not shooters, are the reason for a reduced number of kangaroos in Western Australia’s northern Goldfields. Late last year, the Department of Parks and Wildlife imposed a ban on culling kangaroos across the Goldfields and Nullarbor, after low numbers were spotted during an aerial count.

Economy and Business

NZ’s dairy pollution cost may be $15b: report
The costs of repairing the damage from dairy farming could be as high as $15 billion, according to a new scientific paper. That figure does not include the cost of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation. The New Zealand Dairy Farming: Milking Our Environment for All its Worth paper focuses on four issues: removing nitrates from drinking water (potential cost of repair $10.7bn);  soil compaction ($611 million); greenhouse gas emissions ($3.1bn) and clean, green image ($569m).  Co-author Dr Mike Joy of Massey University said the environmental costs of dairy farming “at the higher end” exceeded the export value of dairy for 2012 of $11.6bn.

‘Return on Meaning’: Top Meaningful Brands Enjoy 46% Higher Share of Wallet Than Low Performers
Meaningful Brands® – Havas Media Group’s metric of brand strength – is the first global study to show how our quality of life and wellbeing connects with brands at both a human and business level. The study includes 1,000 brands, 300,000 people, 12 industries and 34 countries; and covers the role brands play in our communities and our personal wellbeing, as well as marketplace factors that relate to product performance such as quality and price.

Tilonia Showing Economic Growth Doesn’t Have to Lead to Environmental Degradation
It is often presumed in the modern world that drawing people out of poverty results in higher carbon emissions and environmental impact; the biggest driver of greenhouse gas emissions has been economic growth. However, Tilonia®, an ethical accessories brand based in Rajasthan, India, has shown that the conventional growth model can be broken. Tilonia draws upon the traditional skills and training of locals to produce a range of handmade textile products, providing a key source of income and social mobility for the communities involved. In the process, the model manages to attain economic growth alongside social and environmental sustainability by sourcing local natural materials and dyes, and utilizing traditional techniques.

UCSD Undergrads Create First Algae-Based Sustainable Surfboard
San Diego is home to a robust surfing industry and now, thanks to a collaboration with UC San Diego’s biology and chemistry students, the city is also home to the world’s first algae-based surfboard. Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology and algae geneticist at UC San Diego… headed the effort to produce the surfboard. Several months ago, undergraduate biology students working in Mayfield’s lab to produce biofuels from algae joined fellow chemistry undergrads to figure out how to make the precursor of the polyurethane foam core of a surfboard from algae oil. Typically, polyurethane surfboards are made entirely from petroleum. “Most people don’t realize that petroleum is algae oil,” explained Mayfield. “It’s just fossilized, 300 million to 400 million years old and buried deep in underground.”

The State of Green Electronics: Where We Are Now
The electronics of tomorrow hold both great technological promise and the potential for environmental peril, says Robert Frisbee, CEO of the Green Electronics Council. Things like 3-D printers, wearables, converged devices and the cloud will continue to revolutionize how we interact with the world and with one another. Underlying that innovation are new challenges that need to be addressed.

Waste and the Circular Economy

UPSTREAM Hands State Officials Model Legislation for Optimizing Packaging Recycling
Today, environmental advocacy organization UPSTREAM announced the release of model legislation that state legislatures can adopt to optimize recycling, address litter and create jobs through shared responsibility for packaging. The model legislation was developed by UPSTREAM in consultation with local government officials and recycling experts throughout the country. “Everyone wants to boost recycling and prevent litter. The good news is that we know how to do it. There are a suite of policy tools and operational tactics that have been proven to solve both problems,” said Matt Prindiville, Associate Director for UPSTREAM. “The bad news is that many of these ideas cost money, and that money has to come from somewhere. It’s fair for some of that funding to come from the companies who put the packaging out there in the first place.

Politics and Society

Welcome to the UK’s latest national park … London
In London, one in seven children has not visited a green space in the last year and many more enjoy that pleasure just once a year. It is a form of environmental inequality with the poorest children most likely to suffer from what has now been dubbed “nature deficit disorder”. Schemes to connect young Londoners to nature are reportedly failing, having reached just 4% of those aged 11 or younger in the capital. These statistics, and more like them, are forcing environmental campaigners and businesses to ask searching questions about what kind of place London might become in the next three decades. With city populations rising exponentially, what quality of life can its residents expect if they become so disconnected with the natural world?

Court orders UK to cut NO2 air pollution
The UK’s highest court has ruled that the government must take immediate action to cut air pollution. The ruling represents a significant victory for campaigners, who started legal action after the UK breached EU limits for nitrogen dioxide in the air. NO2 is produced mainly by emissions from diesel vehicles and is linked to a range of respiratory illnesses. The Environment Department said work had already been started on revised plans to meet EU targets on NO2. In a unanimous ruling, a panel of five judges, headed by the court’s president Lord Neuberger, ordered “that the Government must prepare and consult on new air quality plans for submission to the European Commission… no later than December 31 2015”.

UK university displays ‘memorial’ to named climate deniers
“Lest we forget those who denied” is the inscription on a 2.2m high monument, slick with a cascade of engine oil, on display at Anglia Ruskin University. Below are the names of six UK figures known for their hostility to action on climate change: politicians Nigel Lawson, Christopher Monckton and Owen Paterson and commentators Melanie Phillips, James Delingpole and Christopher Booker. This “memorial” by third year student Ian Wolter won the university’s annual Sustainability Art Prize. “With this work I envisage a time when the deliberate denial of climate change will be seen as a crime because it hinders progress towards a low carbon future,” he explained.

Graph of the Day: Fossil fuel subsidies to coal miners costing billions
Last December, the Australian Conservation Foundation reminded us just how much Australians pay for fossil fuel subsidies, with a report estimating a total of $47 billion would be allocated by the federal government to the production and use of fossil fuels over the following four years. As the report also pointed out, the biggest single drag on taxpayer funds was the Fuel Tax Credit scheme, which would be responsible for $27.9 billion over four years. But a new report, released on Wednesday by the ACF, has found that basic reform to that scheme could save as much as $15 billion over the four year period.

Indian conservationist wins Whitley award for saving elephants via SMS
On the Valparai plateau in southern India people live in fear of unexpected encounters with giants in the dark. On the Valparai, high in India’s Western Ghats, tea and coffee companies have flattened 221 sq km of prime rainforest for their plantations. The cleared land is now home to 70,000 workers, who live surrounded on all sides by the rugged, deeply forested Anamalai (Tamil for ‘elephant hills’). But the 2,000 elephants who inhabit those hills don’t recognise the multinational companies’ claim to the plateau. Every year around 100 elephants use the plantations as a pathway to get to other parts of the rainforest.

$8bn habitat conservation plan scrapped as California prioritises agribusiness
For the past eight years, California politicians, utility companies, farmers and environmentalists have been arguing over the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP). Environmental groups are now speaking out after recent announcements that the conservation part of the plan has been shelved.

Photos: These 4 Maps Give a Unique Look Into Global Challenges
In centuries past, two-dimensional, hand-drawn maps were indispensable to global exploration and travel. Today our technologically-produced maps are our visual keys to understanding the world’s greatest societal challenges: The world’s growing water risk, the geography of modern-day slavery and the visual impact of poverty all are a bit easier to visualize.

Built Environment

You may be travelling less — and that’s a good thing
In 1900, humans travelled a total of just 0.2 trillion km by vehicle, nearly all by train. By 1950, people travelled a total of 3.3 trillion km, and by 2010, the annual total was over 40 trillion km – or over 133,000 round trips to the sun. That’s an average of nearly 6,000 km per person each year. About half of all travel was by car, and 12% was by air. But times are changing. Reductions in per capita passenger travel in key OECD countries has already begun. Global transport is a major cause of both global oil depletion and climate change. This is a good thing, and efforts to further reduce travel (both passenger and freight) must be encouraged, for a variety of reasons.

Method Opens First LEED-Platinum Certified Factory in Chicago
Method Products, maker of eco-friendly household, fabric and personal care products, has opened the doors of its ‘South Side Soapbox’ factory in the Pullman Park district of Chicago. Designed by architects and sustainable designers, William McDonough + Partners, the Soapbox is the industry’s first LEED-platinum certified factory. The 150,000 square foot facility includes product manufacturing, bottle production, warehousing and distribution.


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