Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Top Story

[Ed: Two top stories today on how our economic model is broken.  We need to account for environmental and social externalities.]

The current economic development model is defunct – we need to ditch it
What is development? To many conventional economists it has been China, though not without irony. Its export-led development model and advantage in all economic sectors created its superpower status, and left it accounting for the vast majority of those lifted out of extreme poverty globally. But there’s a problem with the model. “Beijing is not a liveable city,” said the city’s mayor, Wang Anshun, recently. The price of rapid industrialisation and urbanisation has been pollution: air not fit to breathe, and visitor numbers declining – a sort of anti-development. It’s a crisis echoed in India where recent research estimated pollution caused the collective loss of 2.1bn life years.

Jeffrey Sachs: ‘By separating nature from economics, we have walked blindly into tragedy’
Recent news brings yet another example of hubris followed by crisis followed by tragedy. The hubris is our ongoing neglect of human-induced climate change, leading to climate disruptions around the world. One of the many climate crises currently under way is the mega-drought in São Paulo, Brazil. The recent tragedy is an epidemic of dengue fever in ​the city, as mosquitos breed in the makeshift water tanks that have ​bought in to maintain supply through the drought. Welcome to ‘the age of sustainable development’. We are learning a hard truth: the world economy has crossed the “planetary boundaries” of environmental safety. We now face a momentous choice. Will we continue to follow our blind economic model at growing threat to humanity, or will we choose a new direction that finally combines economic progress with social justice and environmental safety?

Energy and Climate Change

Australia could double its energy productivity by 2030: report
Australia could double its energy productivity by 2030, increasing economic productivity while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report released today by ClimateWorks Australia. The report, Australia’s Energy Productivity Potential, found Australia could increase its economic output from 24.3 cents of GDP per megajoule of energy in 2010 to 47.9 cents of GDP in 2030 – a 97% improvement. This would be achieved without major structural change to the economy and using technologies that are already available or in development.

Report: Why Australia needs to double energy productivity
Australia could double its energy productivity by 2030, a new ClimateWorks report has found, and energy efficiency measures in homes, commercial buildings, cars and industrial settings could get us halfway there. According to the report, there are numerous benefits to increasing energy productivity – the amount of GDP created for each megajoule of energy consumed – including increased energy security, international competitiveness and overall productivity, as well as a decrease in carbon emissions. Australia needed to employ a strategy and target now, the report said, as it currently lagged behind most OECD countries, who were also improving energy productivity at a faster rate.

US solar leaps 30% as residential installs exceed 1 gigawatt
Demand for US solar power increased 30 per cent in 2014 as residential installations for the first time surpassed 1 gigawatt, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research. Developers installed a record 6.2 gigawatts of panels last year, including about 1.2 gigawatts atop homes, the Washington- based trade group said in a statement. About 3.9 gigawatts of utility-scale and 1 gigawatt of commercial solar power were added. The residential market remained the fastest-growing segment, gaining at least 50 per cent in each of the past three years, as cheaper panels and growing consumer awareness of climate change spurred interest among homeowners. The market is swelling as demand climbs in new regions, said Cory Honeyman, a solar analyst with Boston-based GTM.

UK Researchers Make Cheap Solar Cells From Shrimp Shells
Researchers at Queen Mary University of London have for the first time successfully created electricity-generating solar cells with chemicals found in the shells of shrimps and other crustaceans. The materials chitin and chitosan found in the shells are abundant and significantly cheaper to produce than the metals currently used in making nanostructured solar-cells, the researchers say. The researchers used a process called hydrothermal carbonization to create the carbon quantum dots (CQDs) from the widely and cheaply available chemicals found in crustacean shells. They then coated standard zinc oxide nanorods with the CQDs to make the solar cells. Although the solar cells made with these biomass-derived materials currently are not yet energy-efficient, once this improves they could be used in a variety of gadgets.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

We need to attack the morality of fossil fuel investment
In the early 1700s, investing in ventures that used slave labour was considered to be a normal and prudent practice among financiers. In this context, abolitionist campaigners had two options. Either they could talk the language of the merchant banks and traders, arguing that it is unproductive, unprofitable and reputationally damaging to finance slavery. Or, alternatively, they could argue that it is just plain wrong, regardless of profitability. Slave labour could be delegitimised as a backward and embarrassing relic of a medieval economy, not fit for an enlightenment era. The fossil-free divestment movement faces a similar societal dynamic right now.

Boris Johnson told to divest £4.8bn pension fund from fossil fuels
Boris Johnson has been told by the London assembly to pull City Hall’s £4.8bn pension fund out of coal, oil and gas investments, after assembly members voted on Wednesday on a motion in support of the fossil fuel divestment movement. The motion calls on the mayor to publicly support the principle of divestment and to begin the process of dumping the fossil fuel portfolio of the London Pension Fund Authority (LPFA). But the vote is non-binding, meaning the mayor is bound only to consider its proposals and write a response.

Environment and Biodiversity

We are finally learning the Perth Canyon’s deep-sea secrets
After going unexplored for centuries, one of Australia’s biggest marine features is finally giving up its secrets. The Perth Canyon, roughly the length of the Grand Canyon, twice as deep and reaching depths of 4000 metres below the waves, is just 20 kilometres west of Rottnest Island, yet it has never been properly surveyed – until now. Despite being so close to Perth and Fremantle, little is known about life in this abyss. But an ocean expedition currently exploring the canyon is aiming to change that.

Chameleon colours ‘switched by crystals’
Swiss researchers have discovered how chameleons accomplish their vivid colour changes: they rearrange the crystals inside specialised skin cells. It was previously suggested that the reptiles’ famous ability came from gathering or dispersing coloured pigments inside different cells. But the new results put it down to a “selective mirror” made of crystals. They also reveal a second layer of the cells that reflect near-infrared light and might help the animals keep cool.

Kauri protest: Giant kauri should be tested for dieback
A kauri dieback expert believes something has gone “really wrong” for the giant kauri at the centre of a protest in West Auckland to be listed for felling without being checked for the disease. A protester spent a second night up the tree, believed by many to be 500 years old, and dozens were expected to return to the property in Titirangi today to further protest its felling to make way for a private developer’s plan to build two houses. Dr Cate Macinnis-Ng, a lecturer in biological sciences at Auckland University, said the kauri was on a road in Titirangi riddled with kauri dieback, but this tree had not been tested for the disease. “A number of properties have confirmed cases of dieback. If this tree is healthy it’s even more significant because it may have some resistance to the dieback disease.”

Economy and Business

Europe’s environmental report card shows vast room for improvement
The European Environment Agency has released its report card on Europe’s environmental performance, with the data showing that reductions in carbon emissions of 19 per cent since 1990 have had anything but a negative impact on the economy. Economic output has increased by 45 per cent during the same period with fewer resources consumed, as total resource use is down 19 per cent since 2007.The European environment – state and outlook 2015 is a five-yearly integrated assessment that includes data at global, regional and national levels, as well as cross-country comparisons. It states that while air and water quality are improving in some countries due to pollution reductions and recycling rates up across the EU, loss of soil function, land degradation and climate change still remain major concerns.

Louisiana Wetland Restoration Projects Valued at $1.6 Billion
A two-year assessment of the potential to develop blue carbon projects on Louisiana’s coast estimates that carbon finance revenue can provide up to $1.6 billion in critical funding to assist with wetland restoration over the next 50 years. The study, supported by Entergy Corp. through its Environmental Initiatives Fund, and prepared in partnership by New Orleans-based Tierra Resources and Portland-based nonprofit The Climate Trust, examines existing wetland restoration techniques — river diversions, hydrologic restoration, wetland assimilation and mangrove plantings — identifying areas for future scientific investigation to support carbon offset programs.

Climate one of “top risks” facing insurance industry – Mark Carney
Bank of England chief defends climate risk investigation against “green claptrap” jibe from climate sceptic Lord Lawson. “It’s absolutely essential we discharge our duty to protect policy holders in the insurance industry,” Mark Carney told a session of the House of Lords economic committee on Tuesday. “In the re-insurance business one of the top risks is climate change – that is the assessed risk of those institutions with money on the line.” Carney was responding to a question asked by Lord Lawson, a founding member of climate sceptic think-tank the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

Just in Time for St. Paddy’s Day, 24 American Brewers Call for Climate Action
Launched in 2013 by Ceres, a nonprofit sustainability advocacy organization, and its business network, Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP), the Climate Declaration has more than 1,300 signatories nationwide, including iconic brands such as General Motors, Disney, Levi Strauss, Mars and eBay. The brewing companies have signed their own Brewery Climate Declaration, a companion to the Climate Declaration, to call attention to the specific risks and opportunities, of climate change on the $246 billion industry.

Politics and Society

Losing paradise: the people displaced by atomic bombs, and now climate change
People in the Pacific Marshall Islands and Kiribati are facing oblivion as the sea around them rises, and they are already suffering from food shortages, droughts and floods. Karl Mathiesen reports from the frontline of climate crisis.

Fukushima Water: the fictitious energy drink goes on sale
A high energy drink sourced straight from the Fukushima site. It sounds absurd and it is. But for the three Berlin art directors behind a new digital campaign this fictitious drink also raises an important issue: Four years on from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, contaminated water – being used to cool the plant – is still leaking into the Pacific Ocean. “We were blown away by how weird it was that contaminated water is still being poured into the Pacific Ocean and that people have no idea,” says Kenzi Benabdallah, one of the trio of friends behind the campaign.

The Real Cost of Our Addiction to Cattle (Book Talk)
They provide us with beef and milk, the gel coating for pills, soap, ice cream, baseballs, and printing ink. But our dependence on cattle, especially the beef we consume in larger quantities per person than any other country except Argentina and Luxembourg, comes at a cost: industrial feedlots where cattle stand knee-deep in their own feces, pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones for them; clogged arteries, obesity, and heart attacks for us. From their home in Seattle, husband-and-wife team Denis Hayes and Gail Boyer Hayes, authors of Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Environment, explain why Julius Caesar feared aurochs; how “ag gag” laws are being used in America to suppress criticism of the meat industry; why a cow called Yvonne became a folk heroine in Germany; and how a ranch in Hawaii offers a sustainable alternative to industrial beef-farming.

Food Systems

Fresh bet on an old roughy
Once it was our white table fish of choice. Then came one of Australia’s worst fishery collapses and it was inscribed as a founding member of the “bad fish” list. Now local orange roughy is on its way back to the fishmonger, with a decision to set a commercial quota in a key fishing ground for the first time in a decade. The decision has commercial fishers celebrating a triumph of careful management, but conservationists warning against renewed assault on a still-precarious deep-sea species.

Southern Bluefin tuna quota caught quickly with good quality tuna ready to be farmed
The Southern Bluefin tuna industry says a strong recovery of fish stocks is helping boost quality. Industry Association chief executive Brian Jeffriess said it had been a good start to the season, with fishing once again finishing earlier than usual.  He said fish had been caught east of Port Lincoln for the fourth year running, which had helped shorten the towing times back to tuna farm.


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