Sustainable Development News

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

Solar power set to become cheapest source of energy over next decade, German think tank says
Solar energy is set to become the cheapest source of electricity in many parts of the world within the next 10 years, according to a new report released by German think tank, Agora Energiewende. The report was commissioned by the independently funded organisation, designed to steer Germany towards its 80 per cent renewable energy target. CEO Dr Patrick Graichen said they wanted to see if recent falls in the cost of photovoltaics would continue. “The finding is there’s no end to the cost decline in photovoltaics,” he said.

Tiny capsules can have big impact on carbon capture
Using the same baking soda found in most grocery stores, we and our colleagues from Harvard University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, have created a significant advance in carbon dioxide capture. We developed a new type of carbon capture media composed of microcapsules, tiny capsules designed to separate carbon dioxide in flue gases from power plants and other sources of emissions. Our approach offers a number of advantages over current methods.

Today is a defining moment for Europe’s flawed biofuels policy
Today European politicians will decide whether or not to put millions of tonnes of crops, including palm oil, into car fuel tanks. MEPs on the European Parliament Environment committee are set to vote on whether to put a cap on the use of food crops in biofuels. Their judgment will have serious repercussions, affecting some of the most vulnerable people and ecosystems in Indonesia. When I visited Brussels last year to talk with EU decision-makers about Europe’s policy to promote biofuels, my message to them was clear: by using and promoting crops such as palm oil for biofuels, Europe shares responsibility for deforestation and the increase in carbon emissions in Indonesia, not to mention human rights abuses. It’s time for Europe to step up and fix the problem.

European carbon market reform set for 2019
Reforms to strengthen the EU’s flagship policy for cutting carbon, the emissions trading scheme (ETS), will start at the end of 2018 following a vote by MEPs on Tuesday. The carbon market is supposed to drive Europe’s transition to cleaner sources of energy, but a cocktail of recession, free allocations to polluters and over-achievement on green energy targets have created a flood of 2bn allowances. That has led to a carbon price of around €7 (£5) per tonne, too low to encourage power companies to switch from polluting fuels such as as coal. Under the new compromise proposal, around 1.6bn surplus allowances will be taken off the market and put into a market reserve, two years ahead of the commission’s preferred timetable.

Meeting emissions reduction target ‘based on track record, not modelling’
The Abbott government’s confidence that its direct action climate policy will meet Australia’s emissions reduction target is based on Australia’s track record in environmental policy and not on modelling, a Senate estimates hearing has heard. Senators were told on Monday that the environment department and clean energy regulator had not done any modelling to assess whether the government’s emissions reduction fund could meet Australia’s 5 per cent emissions reduction target by 2020.

City of Sydney releases ambitious building upgrade plan
Close to $400 million could be spent on programs to improve energy efficiency – including widespread building retrofits, tune-ups and increased minimum performance standards for new builds – in a City of Sydney plan to double energy productivity and save more than $600 million in energy bills by 2030.

Environment and Biodiversity

‘Curious George’ a popular summer visitor
Forget the city of sails moniker, Auckland is the city of whales and one in particular. A drone video proves it. “Curious George”, a year-old Bryde’s whale, has become a summer star among Auckland tourists who go whale watching out in the Hauraki Gulf.  Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari skipper Andy Light said last year they approached a mother and calf out by Anchorite Rock. “He came straight away to us and circled the boat,” he said on a video made by Auckland’s Media Clinic of the experience. He circled the boat and at one stage nudged between the catamaran’s twin hulls.  “We shut the engines down so he could play around us and with the boat.”

India’s tiger success story may be based on inaccurate census, says study
The accuracy of a recent census suggesting India’s tigers have increased by a third has been called into question by a new study. The Indian government had trumpeted the rise in tigers from 1,706 in 2011 to 2,226 in 2014 as a sign that state-led conservation programmes were working. “This is a proof of India’s biodiversity and how we care for mitigating climate change. This is India’s steps in the right direction, which the world will applaud,” environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, said at the time. But the new University of Oxford paper concluded that the statistical model used by India is a poor way to accurately predict tiger numbers. The team said that they were not disputing the rise in Indian tigers but the methodology behind the census was not robust enough to measure population changes.

Economy and Business

‘Soft Sustainability’: How Brands Are Successfully Communicating Their Efforts by Steering Clear of the ‘S’ Word
Back in the late 1980s, Harvard professor Joseph Nye coined the term “soft power” to describe the US’s ability to influence the world through the marketing power of its global consumer brands and Hollywood’s razzle dazzle rather than the US military’s big stick. Today, as companies begin to shape a narrative that makes sense to the public, Nye’s language could well be applied to sustainability. Welcome to the era of Soft Sustainability. The term could be used to describe the approach of some of the world’s biggest companies as they seek to communicate their own sustainability work while also providing their consumers and greater community a roadmap to sustainable living.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Dow Pilot Program Shows Plastic Waste Can Be Turned Into Fuel
The Dow Chemical Company recently completed a pilot program aimed at showing how certain plastics such as juice pouches, candy wrappers and plastic dinnerware — which are not easily recyclable under traditional models — can be converted into synthetic crude oil for fuel. From June to August 2014, Dow says around 26,000 households in Citrus Heights were provided with purple bags — called “Energy Bags” — in which participants were asked to collect plastic items not currently eligible for mechanical recycling, so they could be diverted from the landfill and converted into energy.

Plastic-pollution battlers back on water
A group of young adventurers are taking to the water in some unusual kayaks in a bid to battle plastic pollution. The Plastic Bottle Kayak team are about to embark on their second journey to remind people about the impact of plastic pollution on New Zealand rivers and oceans. Two years ago, a group of 16 paddled 100km down the Whanganui River in four double kayaks made of plastic bottles. They plan to tackle the Abel Tasman National Park in March and have mustered the support of the Museum of Transport and Technology [Motat] and singer-songwriter Jamie McDell.

Politics and Society

Phil McCabe: Seabed mining rebuffs send right message
NEW ZEALAND – Among the fallout from the Environmental Protection Agency denial of a second application to mine the seabed for minerals in New Zealand waters, there have been cries from the mining industry and friends that our new legislation needs softening. Really? Let’s go back a few steps.

After 75 years, the Dalai Lama is more important than ever
It is three quarters of a century since the Dalai Lama’s coronation as the temporal and spiritual leader of Tibet. He is now almost 80-years-old and still presents a dilemma for Western leaders, who routinely come under pressure from Beijing not to meet him whenever he visits their countries. His appearance with Barack Obama at the US’s National Prayer Breakfast on February 5 2015 was a perfect example. The media coverage and scholarly exchanges that swirled around the event focused on whether the White House should receive the Dalai Lama at all – and what the costs of a presidential meeting with the Tibetan leader might ultimately be. There was also naturally a reassessment of the Dalai Lama’s goals and achievements, and the same old criticisms of him surfaced once again.


Can we teach intelligence?
Hardly any other psychological concept is as important to us as intelligence. We want to make intelligent choices, be able to keep up an intelligent conversation, and simply be intelligent people. Not surprisingly, scientists have investigated intelligent and less intelligent behaviour for decades. A wide array of different, sometimes even contradicting definitions of intelligence and tests of intelligence have emerged as result.

Built Environment

How trees, parks and green walls can boost property prices and curb climate risks
Far from being a “fluffy optional extra” the report by the UK Green Building Council (UK-GBC) argues introducing green infrastructure into the built environment offers a number of business opportunities, ranging from “future proofing” against climate impacts to improving staff productivity and brand loyalty. Likely benefits include reduced maintenance costs, lower energy and air conditioning bills through natural cooling from living walls, roofs and courtyards, and improved health and well-being of the people using those spaces. These business benefits are expected to come on top of social and environmental benefits, such as improved community cohesion and biodiversity.

Tesla targets Australian Grand Prix for test drives
Attendees of the Melbourne Grand Prix will no doubt be looking forward to watching some serious speed at Albert Park in mid-march, but they could also be arriving in some serious speed to as Tesla is offering ticket holders the opportunity to test-drive themselves in a Tesla Model S to Grand Prix. Tesla has decided that the “speed freaks” attending the Grand prix may be the very people it wants or needs to impress. Its proposed test drive starts at the Marriott Hotel and the 20-30 drive to Albert Park circuit is accompanied by a Tesla product specialist who will give drivers the run-down on the Model S. The Model S is the fastest four-door vehicle ever built but hasn’t been on Australian shores long, after Tesla’s Australian launch late last year.

Manufacturers sign up to second season of Formula E
Renault and Virgin are among eight manufacturers to confirm they will compete in the second season of Formula E, as the all-electric racing championship looks to become a test-bed for zero-emission technology. The inaugural 2014/15 season has seen all 10 teams use identical single-seater racing cars in the form of the Spark-Renault SRT_01E, which uses a powertrain developed by McLaren Electronic Systems. But from the 2015/2016 season, the series will emulate Formula 1 by becoming an open championship that allows manufacturers to pursue their own in-house innovations – beginning with the development of bespoke powertrains.

Food Systems

Organic UK food sales defy market downturn to rise 4% in 2014
Sales of organic food and drink products have bounced back, rising by 4% last year at a time of tumbling food prices and spending. Shoppers spent an extra £1.4m a week on organic products and the organic market exceeded £1.86bn – bringing sales levels back to the levels of 2009 – according to a report by the Soil Association, the organic industry trade body. Dairy products and fresh fruit and vegetables were the most popular organic purchases. More than a quarter of spending on organic products (27.9%) is in the diary aisles, with yoghurt sales increasing by 13.8% and milk by 2.9% – in stark contrast to the 3% contraction of the non-organic dairy market. Sales of organic eggs and poultry were up 15.8% and 8.2%, while non-organic sales dipped by 6.2% and 3.3% respectively.

South Coast New South Wales sea urchin business grows export market and improves ocean ecology
Growing demand for high grade sea urchins is good news for processors, but also ocean life, according to divers. Keith Brown, of South Coast Sea Urchins in New South Wales, plans to upgrade his business, opening up new markets, if he receives export approval later this year. Sea urchins are known for their ability to strip rocks bare, devouring weeds and algae in fisheries. Keith Brown and John Smyth have been videotaping their dives to document the way sea urchin harvesting has rehabilitated the ocean floor and dramatically increased abalone numbers in the area


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