Sustainable Development News

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

Australia’s climate stance savaged at UN summit At this week’s General Assembly the key concern was global warming and the celebrity mouthpiece was actor Leonardo DiCaprio. As though aware of the awkwardness of his position, in his address to the General Assembly, DiCaprio sought to buttress his call for drastic and immediate action to reduce carbon emissions with a voice harder to challenge than his own. “The Chief of the US Navy’s Pacific Command, Admiral Samuel Locklear, recently said that climate change is our single greatest security threat,” said DiCaprio. “My friends, this body – perhaps more than any other gathering in human history – now faces that difficult task. You can make history, or be vilified by it.” The speech was well given and well received, but it turned out that his prediction was not entirely correct. Australia did not have to wait for history, it was vilified for its stance on climate change on the spot.

Chile enforces South America’s first carbon tax Chile has become the first South American country to introduce a tax on carbon, in a pioneering effort to tackle climate change. On Friday the Chilean government ratified legislation that levies a new tax on energy companies, targeting the firms operating fossil fuel-powered plants with installed capacity equal to or larger than 50 megawatts. Each such plant will initially be charged $5 (£3.08) per tonne of carbon emitted, while renewably powered plants and smaller facilities will be exempt.

Solar power could be world’s top electricity source by 2050, says IEA Solar energy could be the top source of electricity by 2050, aided by plummeting costs of the equipment to generate it, a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the West’s energy watchdog, said on Monday. IEA Reports said solar photovoltaic (PV) systems could generate up to 16% of the world’s electricity by 2050, while solar thermal electricity (STE) – from “concentrating” solar power plants – could provide a further 11%.

IBM’s ‘sunflower’ device to improve efficiency of solar technology IBM, together with Airlight Energy, has launched a new 10-meter-high ‘sunflower’ device, able to move in order to catch as much sunlight as possible, which can concentrate the sun’s radiation 2,000 times and convert 80% into electricity and heat. Designers say they took inspiration from a sunflower and the branched blood vessel network of the human body to create the High Concentration PhotoVoltaic Thermal (HCPVT) system.

Savanna burns reduce emissions by half a million tonnes The CSIRO says improved fire management practices across northern Australia have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than half a million tonnes over the past year. Savanna burning was introduced as a methodology under the Federal Government’s Carbon Farming Initiative, to reduce the frequency of large, late dry season fires in the north. CSIRO researcher, Dr Garry Cook, says although emission reduction is the primary goal, many other benefits are also flowing from the methodology.

Environment and Biodiversity

Breeding season ready for takeoff Dunedin’s unique royal albatross colony seems like a mix of Airport and a soap opera: what happens next in arrivals, departures, hatches, matches and dispatches on the Otago Peninsula is apparently quite a cliffhanger. Church bells across Dunedin and the peninsula rang out at noon today, the city’s customary way of heralding the return of individuals in its endemic Northern Royal Albatross colony for the breeding season after a season of ocean-foraging. The largest seabird in the world with its 3.3m wingspan, the endangered species travels vast distances from the colony to feed in the open oceans, covering as much as 190,000km during a season.  For the rest of the year, they live on a protected reserve at the tip of Otago Peninsula on Taiaroa Head, the huge bird’s only mainland home in the Southern Hemisphere and a major wildlife tourist attraction for Dunedin.

Montara oil spill: Indonesia requests Australia’s cooperation on resolving dispute over impact on coastal communities The Indonesian government has formally requested Australia’s cooperation in resolving a dispute over an oil spill that it says had a devastating impact on coastal communities. In August 2009 the wellhead blew at the Montara platform in Australian waters and crude oil spewed out into the Timor Sea for 74 days. Some estimates put the rate of leakage at 500,000 litres per day as the company worked to cap the well and sprayed chemicals on the ocean to disperse the oil. The company responsible, PTTEP Australasia, is a Perth-based subsidiary of a Thai-owned company.  Indonesia has little or no power over the company as it was operating in Australian waters, and Australia previously said it had not received a request from Indonesia for help.

New generation returns to care for country As a young bloke, Terrah Guymala remembers being on a mission station and seeing wildfire smoke on the horizon. He recalls the “old people” on the mission talking about the smoke haze. It was rising from their land. Their country was burning. “Old people started getting worried,” he said. “They were worried that we were going to lose the land so we came back.” In returning, the Warddeken people of the remote west Arnhem plateau reversed a trend which began after World War II when the missions, towns and cattle stations pulled the populations from their country with promises of work and education. During their three-decade absence the vast 1.2 million hectares of orphaned Warddeken country 230 kilometres east of Darwin started burning with increasing intensity. Without small-scale burning early in the dry season, lightning strikes ignited larger, hotter wildfires. Even now the rainforest with its grand anbinik trees, some dating back 600 years, is a threatened ecosystem. Fire is an inevitable force in the dry season. It will never be eradicated. So it needs to be managed.

Congo, Wildlife Works Unveil Program to Protect 9M Hectares from Deforestation With eyes on New York last week as leaders gathered for the UN Climate Summit, a pivotal REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) program has been launched to protect forests in the Congo Basin and promote the inherent value of natural standing forests around the world. The initiative — which is to become Africa’s largest pay-for-performance scheme — was announced Thursday by His Excellency Minister N’sa Mputu Elima, Minister of Environment, Conservation of Nature and Tourism for the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Mike Korchinsky, founder and president of Wildlife Works.

Economy and Business

Sea change: big US businesses now support climate policy Plenty of attendees expressed disappointment with the United Nations climate talks this week in New York. “The bottom line is I’m not turning cartwheels after the talks yesterday,” said Greg Barker, UK prime minister David Cameron’s envoy on climate change, at a Climate Week session on clean energy investment Wednesday. “This hasn’t been the show many of us hoped it would be.” But while the political commitments may have fallen short of the “bold new announcements and action” that UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called for, several industry insiders found reasons for optimism in the business discussions.

The Next 5 Challenges to Sustainable Investing Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) is a growing force in markets across the world. According to the US SIF Foundation, the responsible investing market in the US increased 486 percent while the broader US market of professionally managed assets grew 376 percent between 1995 and 2012. SRI investments are generally demand-side driven: More and more investors are looking for vehicles that are aligned with their values and priorities. In 2014, the total Assets Under Management (AUM) of the 1,278 signatories of the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), which include asset owners, investment managers and professional service partners, totaled $45 trillion. The SRI niche is not going away.

Business and society: defining the ‘social licence’ Business leaders, politicians and civil society set a common direction towards new global agreements on climate change at the UN climate conference in New York last week . Next year will also see a new set of global goals to meet the world’s most pressing development and sustainability problems. Direct involvement of the private sector is no longer debated. It is now a question of how much and some studies suggest that at least $1tn of private investment is needed… When it comes to business, how should we understand whether companies have sufficient social legitimacy to take on joint responsibility for delivering essential goods: from health to clean drinking water, from ending gender discrimination to fighting corruption?

Politics and Society

Beyond politics: how finance can influence climate change in Australia When protestors start occupying the offices of pension funds rather than blocking the bulldozers razing old growth forests, it’s clear that the times – and campaigning tactics – are changing. The rapid momentum behind the finance sector-focused NGO campaigns in Australia has taken casual observers and many within the finance industry by surprise. With domestic political action on climate change in Australia stubbornly stuck in reverse gear, environment groups are looking to other avenues to influence climate action and they’ve chosen finance as the next target. Today, there are more than ten environment groups in Australia with finance sector focused campaigns.

Renewable energy target rallies held across Australia Rallies have been held across Australia calling on the federal government to uphold a commitment to renewable energy. At some 30 locations around the nation on Friday, peaceful protesters waved placards and made speeches outside the offices of Coalition MPs and senators. “Tasmania is a renewable energy paradise,” climate action spokesman Phil Harrington called from the back of a ute outside the Hobart office of Liberal senator Eric Abetz. The leader of the government in the upper house wasn’t inside his office to hear speeches, which outlined the billions of dollars worth of investment Tasmania is set to reap from renewable energy projects including wind farms. A similar scene backing the renewable energy target (RET) was on show in Perth outside the office of deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop, where protesters were addressed by state MP for Perth, Alannah MacTiernan.

Dirty air, dodgy politics: why it’s easier to attack science than listen to Morwell fire death stats I’m quite nervous about writing this. I’m going to stray from my familiar academic world into a political one, and it’s on an issue that may very well have killed several people. My reputation has already been debased in the Victorian Parliament, by Health Minister David Davis. I’m expecting more political dirt to come my way. First, the back story. The issue is the Hazelwood coalmine fire, which burned from February 9 to March 10 this year in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. It covered the surrounding area in thick smoke and ash, and caused eye-wateringly high levels of particulate pollution in the nearby town of Morwell.

Should Norway be paying Liberia to stop cutting down forests? Despite all the treaties, pledges, export bans and labelling schemes, the world’s forests are still disappearing at an alarming rate. In poorer countries a forest may simply be worth less as a living, thriving ecosystem than it is as timber and farmland. So if money is a key factor, why not get rich countries to pay poor countries to stop chopping trees? The UN Climate Summit in New York saw major new agreements along these lines. Norway in particular has pledged to pay Peru and Liberia hundreds of millions of dollars if they protect their forests more effectively. Such so-called REDD+ schemes hope to save millions of tons of carbon emissions while at the same time protecting indigenous people’s rights. Although these bilateral deals sound good in principle, many NGOs, indigenous people and community groups have expressed significant concerns.

Built Environment

New formula for green cement could slash emissions A new formula for cement could drastically reduce carbon emissions in the construction sector while improving the strength and durability of concrete, researchers say. Cement is made by cooking a calcium-rich material (usually limestone) with a silica-rich material (usually clay) before grounding it into a powder for use in concrete. The decarbonation of limestone and extreme heat used is the cement making process is responsible for most of concrete’s carbon output. New molecular analysis of concrete – a mixture of sand, gravel, water, and cement – by a research team at MIT and CNRS in France, however, has found that reducing the ratio of calcium to silica in cement could cut emissions from the cement by more than half and at the same time create a stronger, more durable material.

Mirvac hits 5 star NABERS across entire office portfolio Real estate group Mirvac has lifted its NABERS Energy rating to 5 stars across its entire office portfolio, from just 2.5 stars in 2008. “Mirvac had a 2.5 Star NABERS Energy portfolio average rating in FY08, so this is an enormous transformation and reflects the hard work our team has put in to embedding sustainability into our business,” Mirvac group executive, office and industrial operations Ben Hindmarsh said. Tom Grosskopf, director of the Metropolitan Branch at the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, which administers NABERS, said that only 20 per cent of NABERS-rated buildings had a 5 star rating or above, and that Mirvac had demonstrated leadership in sustainability.

Food Systems

Global Survey Says We’re Eating Better, But Our Diet Is Still Unsustainable More people are eating local and organic foods and plan to consume less meat and bottled water. However, most also believe they lack enough information and influence to become more environmentally sustainable consumers, a new National Geographic survey has found. The latest Greendex survey by the National Geographic Society and the research consulting firm GlobeScan measured consumption habits and attitudes in 18 countries. Each was scored on the relative size of its environmental footprint. This year’s report, the fifth since 2008, focused on food. It found noticeable improvements in eating habits even as environmentally sustainable behavior when it came to housing, transportation, and consumer goods appeared stuck or had worsened.

Seafood labelling to identify imported prawns and barramundi Prawn farmers believe their industry could massively expand if key issues holding back investment were resolved. They want red tape removed, imports identified at point of sale and substitution rackets eradicated. Prawns and barramundi are farmed across Australia, primarily in the north of New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory. Currently Australia produces about 4,000 tonnes of prawns in ponds, 22,000 tonnes are caught wild and 46,000 tonnes are imported each year. Helen Jenkins from the Australian Prawn Farmers Association says sellers are substituting cheaper imported product and labelling it as Australian.


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