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Sustainable Development News, Tuesday 22 April 2014

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

Federal renewable energy review leaves investors nervous
A Federal government review of the renewable energy target scheme appears to be making industry investors nervous.  The Environment Protection Authority approved a $200 million wind farm proposal for Tasmania’s west coast earlier this month.  Despite the approval, the proponent of the Granville Harbour wind farm, West Coast Wind, is not confident of securing investment until the outcome of the Commonwealth review is known.

Corn biofuels worse than gasoline on global warming in short term – study
Biofuels made from the leftovers of harvested corn plants are worse than gasoline for global warming in the short term, a new study shows, challenging the Obama administration’s conclusions that they are a much cleaner oil alternative and will help combat climate change.  A $500,000 study – paid for by the federal government and released Sunday in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change – concludes that biofuels made with corn residue release 7% more greenhouse gases in the early years compared with conventional gasoline.
Nature letter: Biofuels from crop residue can reduce soil carbon and increase CO2 emissions

Cumbrian nuclear dump ‘virtually certain’ to be eroded by rising sea levels
Britain’s nuclear dump is virtually certain to be eroded by rising sea levels and to contaminate the Cumbrian coast with large amounts of radioactive waste, according to an internal document released by the Environment Agency (EA).  The document suggests that in retrospect it was a mistake to site the Drigg Low-Level Waste Repository (LLWR) on the Cumbrian coast because of its vulnerability to flooding. “It is doubtful whether the location of the LLWR site would be chosen for a new facility for near-surface radioactive waste disposal if the choice were being made now,” it says.

Chinese state energy firm ups shale gas spend to £950m
Chinese state energy group PetroChina plans to spend more than 10bn yuan (£950m) on shale gas fracking this year as domestic competition heats up after rival Sinopec announced a commercial find.  Faced with high drilling costs and the complexity of tapping shale gas, China has struggled to revolutionise its energy supplies. But now the country wants to unlock what could be the world’s largest shale gas reserves by emulating the success of the US shale boom.

Environment

Europe votes to slash plastic bag use
THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT passed a directive on Wednesday aimed at cutting the use of thin single-use plastic carrier bags by 50 per cent by 2017 and 80 per cent two years later.  The directive leaves it to individual states to choose their strategy, for example taxing bags or banning them. EU ministers are due to debate the law in June and the parliament will take it up again later this year following elections in May.  Some 100 billion plastic bags are used every year within the European Union and an estimated 8 billion end up as litter that turns up in Europe’s seas.  The stomachs of 94 per cent of all birds in the North Sea contain plastic, according to figures from the European Commission.

Environmentalists warn against scrapping water commission
Environmentalists have warned the federal government it could spark widespread conflicts over water use if the National Water Commission is abolished.  The future of the commission, an independent statutory authority which provides advice and audits water conservation initiatives, is in doubt as the government looks to achieve budgetary savings.

Japan to ‘redesign’ whale hunt in Antarctic despite ICJ ruling
Japan says it will redesign its controversial whaling activities in the Antarctic after a United Nations court ruled it was a commercial hunt masquerading as science.  Japanese fisheries minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the ruling upheld the notion of “the sustainable use of whales as a resource” and the country would continue its research whaling program.

Cane toad experts tacking rising numbers in heritage-listed Bungle Bungles in Kimberley
The Department of Parks and Wildlife is hoping it can mitigate the effects of the growing number cane toads in the heritage-listed Bungle Bungle ranges in WA’s Kimberley region.  The species first invaded the Purnululu National Park in 2011 and has now become widespread.

China government survey shows 16 per cent of its soil is polluted
China’s environmental protection ministry said its long-awaited soil survey involved samples taken across 6.3 million square kilometres of land, roughly two-thirds of the country’s total area.  About 16.1 per cent of the soil surveyed is thought to be heavily polluted, the ministry said in a report.

Hydrological effects of forest transpiration loss in bark beetle-impacted watersheds
The forests of the Rocky Mountains of North America are suffering the effects of a climate-exacerbated bark-beetle epidemic. This study shows that the transpiration loss due to widespread tree death is affecting stream flow-generating processes at watershed scale, with potential implications for water quality.

Economy and Business

HSBC says wind and solar best picks in climate stocks
Investment bank HSBC says the wind and solar sectors offer the best opportunity for investors looking at climate themes, while industrial efficiency looks the least attractive.  In a report entitled Climate Radar, that it says is one of the first attempts to profile, quantitatively and systematically, investment opportunities within the climate space, HSBC estimates the wind sector offers upside of 68 per cent, while the solar sector offers an upside of 37 per cent.

Desso in ambitious cradle to cradle manufacturing
Alexander Collot d’Escury, chief executive of carpet manufacturer Desso, was in Sydney recently to promote the company’s cradle to cradle manufacturing process that aims to have a restorative impact on the environment.  As part of its sustainability commitment Desso has joined an initiative along with a range of other manufacturers of carpet and apparel to remove plastic waste from the ocean, and use it in their processes.

UniSuper taps World Bank’s first Australian Green Bond issue
Melbourne-based investment fund UniSuper has become the cornerstone investor in the World Bank’s first green bond issue into the Australian market, snapping up one-third of the $300 million five-year, fixed rate Australian dollar denominated debt securities, designed to mobilise private sector funding for environmentally and socially responsible projects.

RepRisk Releases Annual ‘Most Controversial Companies’ List
RepRisk has released its Most Controversial Companies of 2013 report. Throughout the year, RepRisk detected news on thousands of companies across the globe in relation to their environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks. The report analyzes documented negative incidents, criticism and controversies related to the 10 firms that received the highest RepRisk Index (RRI) in 2013.

The startup providing solar lighting to India’s poorest communities
Largely unchanged for centuries, village life in India is slowly modernising. Motorbikes and vans now appear beside bicycles and bullock carts. Yet basic services remain just that: basic.  With more than 32,000 villages continue to lack power, the absence of electrification represents a particular concern. Even those villages that have grid access, power outages represent a frequent frustration.

Politics and Society

Direct Action legislation faces rough reception in the Senate
Australia could be left without a climate change policy as Senate opposition to the Coalition’s “direct action” plan intensifies.  Clive Palmer, whose Palmer United party bloc will control four Senate votes from July, declared on Monday that its centrepiece “emissions reduction fund” was a “token gesture” and a “waste of money” and that his senators would vote against it.  The fund has also been rejected by the Family First senator-elect, Bob Day, as “a waste of money”.  And the spending has been questioned by Liberal Democratic party senator-elect David Leyonhjelm who says “even if [the science of global warming] is eventually confirmed [what the??!!] government spending in Australia will not make the slightest bit of difference” and DLP senator John Madigan who has said he wonders “whether [the government] is just trying to look like they are trying to do something about global warming which they don’t really believe in”.

People who don’t engage climate change deniers ‘ignorant and medieval’: A-G George Brandis
Federal Attorney-General George Brandis says people who say the science is settled on climate change are “ignorant and medieval”.  In an article published in the online political magazine Spiked, Senator Brandis spoke to a journalist about his fight against “the cultural tyranny of political correctness”.

eBook: Climate change and equity
This eBook features Tim Senior’s recently announced prize-winning entry in the Gavin Mooney Essay Prize for 2013, together with the four runners-up.  THE Gavin Mooney Memorial Essay Competition honours the work and memory of the late Professor Gavin Mooney (above), a health economist who was a tireless advocate for social justice in local, national and international arenas.

Keystone XL pipeline decision delayed as administration eyes elections
The Obama administration has put on hold its most contentious environmental decision – whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline – in a move likely to delay any action on the controversial project until after November’s midterm elections.  The State Department announced on Friday it would “provide more time” for a review into the pipeline, ostensibly due to ongoing litigation in a court in Nebraska. It did not say when the consultation is likely to be concluded.  The project would expand an existing pipeline from the vast tar sands of Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the US midwest, transporting crude oil to refineries on the Gulf coast of Texas.

State Department Further Postpones Keystone XL Decision
The long wait for a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline grew even longer Friday, when the U.S. State Department announced it would allow more time for eight federal agencies to submit their views on the proposed project.  The State Department said additional time was needed because of ongoing litigation in the Nebraska Supreme Court that leaves uncertainty over the pipeline’s route.  The proposed pipeline would carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada, through Nebraska and five other states to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The Keystone XL project has become Exhibit A in a larger debate over whether the U.S. should enable further exploitation of the explosive oil and gas wealth made possible by new drilling techniques or should prioritize alternatives to the fossil-fuels that are stoking climate change.

Al Gore On Climate Change Crisis
Former Vice President Al Gore delivered a powerful address to a packed house at the Stan Sheriff Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa this week.

Portland ditches 140 million litres of drinking water after teenager caught urinating in reservoir
The US city of Portland in Oregon is ditching more than 140 million litres of drinking water after a teenager was caught on camera urinating into a reservoir.  The water – enough to fill nearly 60 Olympic-size swimming pools – will be discarded despite tests finding no evidence of contamination.

Fur seal swims free after rescue from netting
An Australian fur seal has escaped a slow painful death after being disentangled from netting in Tasmania’s south.  A member of the public spotted the seal in the Dunalley Canal and alerted authorities, who removed polypropylene material cutting into its neck.  Sam Thalmann from the government’s Marine Conservation Program urges people to report sightings of injured marine life.  He says fur seals in particular are inquisitive and will inspect floating rubbish.

Education

Cradle to Cradle Institute Receives Funding for Online Ed Program for Product Designers
The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute has received funding from the Alcoa Foundation to develop a new web-based education program for product designers, according to a recent announcement.  Available starting June 9, the course will challenge participants to explore and apply design strategies to ensure that the materials that go into each product can return safely to industry or nature at a product’s end of life.  The free course will be self-paced and provide strategies, tools and examples of the five quality categories of the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program — a recognized leadership standard in designing for the future. Besides material reutilization, the program also rewards design considerations for material health, use of clean energy, water stewardship, and social fairness.

Gazzara to Future Sustainability Leaders: Embrace Failure, Avoid ‘Analysis Paralysis’
Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability recently launched the Executive Master’s for Sustainability Leadership (EMSL), a 13-month program designed for mid-career professionals currently employed in or near sustainability roles. The program features a hybrid curriculum of virtual learning and immersive, in-person experiences at ASU and abroad.

Food Systems

The Future of Food
By 2050, Earth will likely be home to more than nine billion people. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. In a special eight-month series, “The Future of Food,” National Geographic investigates how to meet our growing need for nourishment without harming the planet that sustains us.
National Geographic: A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World

Local food entrepreneurs take on Big Food in Australia
Australia’s food industry is shifting as small-scale producers chip away at the domination of major suppliers.  Many outside Australia would perhaps be surprised that the country’s two big food retailers control 73% of the market. At 39%, Woolworths retains the largest slice of the pie, while Wesfarmers’ Coles controls 34%, according to research by Roy Morgan. In addition to limiting consumer choice, the crowding out of small local food suppliers has dire economic consequences, consumer advocates argue.

Waitrose, ITM Power Piloting Project to De-Carbonize Production of Industrial Fertilizer
UK supermarket chain Waitrose has teamed up with energy storage and clean fuel company ITM Power Project to design and build a lower-impact system for the production of industrial fertilizer.  Industrial fertilizer production, which involves converting natural gas and other fossil fuels into ammonia, is responsible for a substantial proportion of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Thanks to co-funding from the UK’s Technology Strategy Board, under its Agri-Tech program, the project will demonstrate the de-carbonization of fertilizer production.

Change farming for climate: US expert
A US expert says innovation is the best way to tackle a changing climate.  Last night, Professor Molly Jahn from the University of Wisconsin delivered the RD Watt lecture at the University of Sydney saying innovation in agricultural and food systems is imperative for society’s survival and development.

Technology

The Pittsburgh startup that has big plans for batteries
From cell phones to laptops to electric cars, the world is becoming increasingly dependent on batteries. Unfortunately, this convenience comes at a cost: some common battery materials are toxic and require special treatment after their end of life. A new company is hoping to combat this cycle: It has begun using more benign materials to make its energy cells.

Technology could allow hemp and flax to break cotton’s global hold on textiles
Intent on dispelling the impression that bast fibres have a scratchy, uncomfortable and unreconstructed hippy feel to them, Crailar has looked to paper production and worked those processes into its product.  Thanks to green chemistry and enzyme science, we worked out that naturally occurring enzymes can be used to rinse the raw fibre and remove all the pectins,” says Nalbach. “What you come out with is a soft, fine fibre of flax or hemp that can be blended with cotton but is far more sustainable than 100% cotton or polyester.”

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