Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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COP 20 Conference, Peru

Will Lima climate talks pave way for a binding treaty in Paris in 2015?
When, on Monday morning in Peru, 4,000 diplomats from the world’s 196 countries start their mammoth session to negotiate a new legally-binding global climate deal, they will know they are in the last chance saloon. COP 20 in Lima is the last full meeting before Paris in a year’s time, when the deal is due to be signed. If countries cannot bury most of their differences on the major issues by Friday week, then the chances of a meaningful agreement next year are slim. The result of failure would be that developing countries are condemned to unchecked climate change for another generation, and the UN process which relies on consensus to get results is fatally undermined.

Lima climate change talks best chance for a generation, say upbeat diplomats
UN climate negotiations opening in Lima on Monday have the best chance in a generation of striking a deal on global warming, diplomats say. After a 20-year standoff, diplomats and longtime observers of the talks say there is rising optimism that negotiators will be able to secure a deal that will commit all countries to take action against climate change. The two weeks of talks in Peru are intended to deliver a draft text to be adopted in Paris next year that will commit countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions without compromising the economic development of poor countries. Diplomats and observers of the UN climate negotiations said recent actions by the US and China had injected much-needed momentum. “I have never felt as optimistic as I have now,” said Tony de Brum, the foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, which are sinking as sea levels rise in the Pacific. “There is an upbeat feeling on the part of everyone that first of all there is an opportunity here and that secondly, we cannot miss it.”

Philippines drops key negotiators for Lima climate change talks
In a news that is being seen as a setback to developing countries in general, and India and China in particular at the climate change talks, Philippines has moved out of the Like Minded Developing Countries group.  Philippines, which had become a leading voice for demands of poor countries at the climate talks years was under tremendous pressure from countries such as the US and the EU to move away from the powerful group of LMDC countries.

Energy and Climate Change

Carbon emissions: past, present and future – interactive
As the UN climate talks open in Lima to agree on a draft text for a treaty in Paris next year, here is a timeline of world’s top 20 emitters of carbon dioxide since the dawn of industrialisation dominated by UK and US.

No tipping, please: Australia’s contradictory stance on the UN climate fund
Australia stands as the only wealthy country to have ruled out a contribution to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund. As of last week, the fund had received pledges from 22 countries totalling $US9.6 billion ($A11.2 billion) against an initial funding target of $US10 billion. The fund is a new financing mechanism to help developing countries protect themselves from the impacts of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It will invest in clean energy generation and distribution, energy-efficient buildings and transport, forest conservation and management, and the “climate-proofing” of infrastructure and agriculture against storms, floods and higher temperatures

UN Green Climate Fund nears $10bn after Spanish pledge
Spain has committed €120 million (£95m) to the UN Green Climate Fund, which is designed to support counties adapting to climate change, taking the total to almost $10 billion (£6.3bn). So far 22 nations have committed finance to the fund, now worth $9.7 billion (£6.1bn). The Green Climate Fund’s headquarters in Songdo, South Korea, opened in December 2013. The fund aims to raise $100 billion (£63bn) to help countries worldwide reach climate change goals and encourage the developing world to adopt sustainable technology.

Florida “Gutting” Energy Efficiency Goals, Terminating Solar Power Rebates
Florida’s state regulators have approved the previously put forward proposals to completely gut the state’s energy efficiency goals and to end its solar rebate programs by the end of 2015, according to recent reports. The approval means that the state’s major, investor-owned utility companies have more or less gotten exactly what they wanted — energy efficiency goals will be cut by over 90%, and the state will cease supporting rooftop solar at all.

Environment and Biodiversity

For Big Cat Week, Our 6 Favorite Cat Videos
While many of us share our homes with felines of the domestic variety, few of us get a glimpse into the lives of their wild cousins. So in honor of Big Cat Week, which runs through December 5, we combed through National Geographic’s many clips of leopards, cheetahs, lions, and other predators for our favorite footage. Come along as a Siberian tiger hunts for food in the snowy wilderness, a jaguar attacks a crocodile in Brazil, and a cheetah reaches maximum speed. We can’t neglect our house cats, though—we’ve also included a video of what our furry friends do when they’re roaming outside.

Queensland risks running the well dry by gifting water to coal
On Wednesday, Queensland’s parliament passed water reform legislation that will make it easier to take and use water, particularly for large mining and agriculture projects. The state government also recently announced it will support infrastructure in the Galilee Basin, particularly the development of the Carmichael coal mine proposed by Indian coal company Adani. True to its word, the Newman government is cutting red tape, but it’s questionable whether these water reforms involve the kind of red tape the community can afford to lose. The reforms have been criticised by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority for their possible impact on the reef, while the move also brings other problems far closer to the mines and the massive underground aquifer that sits beneath them.

Soil Association has disowned ‘O word’, say resigning trustees
The UK’s biggest organic lobbying group has disowned its philosophical roots, is failing to support homeopathy for animals and has developed a dull and insipid image, say four trustees who have resigned over the Soil Association’s future direction. In a scathing letter the trustees say the 68-year old charity, which certifies four-fifths of organic produce and campaigns for organic farming, has abandoned its focus on organics in an attempt to reach a wider audience. The Soil Association strongly refutes the charges, saying organic food and farming is still at the heart of it mission and that its views on homeopathy have not changed.

Economy and Business

Bank of England investigating risk of ‘carbon bubble’
The Bank of England is to conduct an enquiry into the risk of fossil fuel companies causing a major economic crash if future climate change rules render their coal, oil and gas assets worthless. The concept of a “carbon bubble” has gained rapid recognition since 2013, and is being taken increasingly seriously by some major financial companies including Citi bank, HSBC and Moody’s, but the Bank’s enquiry is the most significant endorsement yet from a regulator. The concern is that if the world’s government’s meet their agreed target of limiting global warming to 2C by cutting carbon emissions, then about two-thirds of proven coal, oil and gas reserves cannot be burned. With fossil fuel companies being among the largest in the world, sharp losses in their value could prompt a new economic crisis.

The strengthening economic case for fossil fuel divestment
The controversy ignited by the Australian National University in October, when it decided to sell its shares in seven resources companies, has raised two important questions about divestment from assets such as fossil fuels. The first is whether divestment is an economically prudent choice, and the second is whether there is anything special about universities that helps to inform their decision. Any portfolio investment is a bet on the prospects of the company and industry in which the money is invested. For the bet to pay off, the company must do well relative to its competitors but, more importantly, the industry as a whole must also prosper. So an investment in companies whose primary asset is ownership of fossil fuel reserves is a bet that those reserves will be extracted and sold at a price that exceeds the cost of production

Adani group’s Galilee Basin Carmichael mine project ‘not viable’, Indian opposition says
Indian opposition MPs have raised concerns about using state funds to bankroll the Adani Group’s Carmichael mine project in western Queensland, which they say is not viable. During Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s maiden visit to Australia last month, Adani signed a MOU with the State Bank of India (SBI) for a $1 billion loan to fund the project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. The Adani Group’s Carmichael mine, rail and port project is worth about $16 billion and promises to create tens of thousands of jobs in Queensland’s west. But economic analysts said the project would only be viable if coal was at $100 a tonne – currently it is worth about $70 and showing no sign of uprising.

Summer’s arrival brings dry, hot tidings for farmers
Talk of the official start to summer brings a wry chuckle from northern grain farmer Scott Flinn. A recent heatwave  had temperatures soar to 46-47 degrees at his property, Karingle, near Tamworth, and he can’t see how it can get much hotter than that. His 280-hectare block has also received just a tenth of its annual rainfall so far in 2014, and the outlook is for a drier and warmer-than-average summer  throughout his region and, indeed, most of Australia. “We’ve been missing out on our good general rains for about four years now,” Mr Flinn said, adding his wheat and barley crop failed this year. “It is fairly serious.”

In the last 100 years, nine of the warmest springs have been since 2002

In the last 100 years, nine of the warmest springs have been since 2002

Hyundai Launching First Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle in Canada
Hyundai has announced that it will be the first automotive company to make hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles available to the Canadian public. The Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) will be available to Canadians on a 3-year lease beginning in early 2015 in the Vancouver area. The vehicle stores hydrogen gas and draws an inflow of air to the fuel cell stack. There is no combustion of hydrogen and the stack has no moving parts. The electrochemical process of combining oxygen and hydrogen in the fuel cell stack creates electricity to power the vehicle’s electric motor and charge an onboard battery. The only by-product of the process is pure water vapor, resulting in zero greenhouse-gas emissions.

Politics and Society

David Pocock put on notice by Australian Rugby Union following arrest at coal-mine protest
The Australian Rugby Union (ARU) has issued an official warning to David Pocock after he was charged for his part in a coal-mine protest. The one-time Wallabies captain and star flanker was arrested while protesting Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek Mine. The 26-year-old and a number of others were charged with trespass, remaining on enclosed land without lawful excuse and hindering the working of mining equipment and he was found to have breached the ARU’s code of conduct. The ARU said in a statement they felt he was getting distracted by issues other than rugby union during his extended recovery from a number of serious knee injuries. “While we appreciate David has personal views on a range of matters, we’ve made it clear that we expect his priority to be ensuring he can fulfil his role as a high-performance athlete,” the statement read.

Eco-tourism on agenda in Tasmania as government accepts proposals for development in national parks, World Heritage Areas
A new environmental battle is looming in Tasmania as the state opens up untouched areas for eco-tourism.  The Hodgman Government wants tourism operators to take advantage of development opportunities inside national parks and World Heritage Areas. It has received 37 proposals, including one from operator Ian Johnstone to build permanent hut-style accommodation along the South Coast Track bushwalking route, 110 kilometres from Hobart. He believes he can increase the numbers walking the track by between 1000 and 1500 people each year.

Built Environment

Intelligent transport systems: ending the gridlock
Two years ago, Bill Ford, chairman of Ford Motors, warned of “global gridlock” unless we developed a better connected, more intelligent transport system for our cities. Based on closer collaboration between carmakers, and greater use of technology, the system needed, he said, to link pedestrians, bicycles, cars and commercial and public transport as part of one interconnected system. “If we do nothing,” Ford said, “the sheer number of people and cars in urban areas will mean global gridlock.” This state of affairs is not an option for our cities. They are the economic engines of most industrialised nations, and the ability to move goods and people around them freely and quickly is essential to sustained growth.

Fewer trees leave the outer suburbs out in the heat
In Melbourne, for every 10 kilometres you travel from the city centre, the tree cover drops by more than 2%. That means Melbourne’s inner suburbs might have more than 15% cover, but an outer suburb could have less than 10%. A 5% fall in urban tree cover can lead to a 1-2C rise in air temperature, leaving these communities more exposed to extreme heat. This really matters for community health and well-being, especially for the vulnerable among us – the elderly, young children and those with existing health issues. There’s also mounting evidence that exposure to greenery and nature improves community mental health and well-being.

Food Systems

Report: Food Companies Can’t Expect Customers to Pay More for High Sustainability Standards
There is a limit to how much companies can expect consumers to pay for higher sustainability standards—a limit in terms of the price that they will be willing to pay and also in terms of the market share that can be commanded, according to a new report by U.K.-based Sustainable Food Supply Chains Commission. The report, The Long and the Short of It, says consumers who aren’t prepared to pay a premium for high standards present a problem for food and drink companies hoping to advance their sustainability agenda. Companies that aspire to promoting social and environmental sustainability in their supply chains are competing with other companies that may not share those aspirations.

Organic garlic production in NSW replacing Chinese imports
There’s a gap in the Australian garlic market that a couple of organic farmers in the central west of New South Wales are hoping to fill. Ninety-seven percent of the garlic consumed in Australia is from China, and it’s treated with bromide and other agents under AQIS requirements. But high on the hillside of Mount Canobolas, near Orange, Libby and Ken Morgan are harvesting their biggest crop of organic garlic to date; half-a-hectare that should yield between four and five tonnes of purple, hard-neck garlic cloves.


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