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November 30, 2015

How Billionaires Gates, Bezos and Zuckerberg Could Boost Clean Energy

By Wendy Koch, National Geographic
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 30, 2015

They’re more than a who’s who of Silicon Valley. The new billionaires’ clean energy club consists of the world’s biggest tech titans, including leaders in India and China.


Microsoft founder Bill Gates announced Monday, the first day of two-week UN climate talks in Paris, that a group of 28 private investors will help countries shift from fossil fuels to energy sources that do not emit planet-warming greenhouse gases.

“Current government funding levels for clean energy are simply insufficient to meet the challenges before us,” the Breakthrough Energy Coalition says on its website. What the group promises is a “different kind of investor with a long term commitment” and "patient" capital.

Gates says the investors aim to get clean-energy ideas out of the lab and into the marketplace. In a blog post, he says that while solar and wind power could help meet the 50 percent increase in global energy demand expected by 2050, "we also need to invent new approaches."

Read more at National Geographic.

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category : Topics

November 27, 2015

COP21: Public support for tough climate deal 'declines'

By Matt McGrath
Environment correspondent, BBC News

Public support for a strong global deal on climate change has declined, according to a poll carried out in 20 countries.

Only four now have majorities in favour of their governments setting ambitious targets at a global conference in Paris.

In a similar poll before the Copenhagen meeting in 2009, eight countries had majorities favouring tough action.

The poll has been provided to the BBC by research group GlobeScan.

Just under half of all those surveyed viewed climate change as a "very serious" problem this year, compared with 63% in 2009.

The findings will make sober reading for global political leaders, who will gather in Paris next week for the start of the United Nations climate conference, known as COP21.

Read more at BBC NEWS.

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category : Topics

November 27, 2015

Unilever to stop using coal for energy within five years

Fiona Harvey, environment correspondent
Friday 27 November 2015 00.01 GMT

Unilever, the consumer goods giant, has pledged to eliminate coal from its energy usage within five years, and derive all of its energy worldwide solely from renewable sources by 2030.

The company will become “carbon positive” by 2030, through its own use of renewables, and by investing in generating more renewable energy than it needs, selling the surplus on the markets and making it available to local communities in areas where it operates. About 40% of the company’s energy use currently comes from green sources.

Unilever made the commitment ahead of the crunch UN climate change conference in Paris, which begins this weekend.

Paul Polman, chairman of the company, told the Guardian the target was “do-able, really do-able”. He cited a new factory in China which is powered by wind and solar energy, and an office in Paris which is “carbon positive”, contributing green electricity to the power grid.

Read more at The Guardian.

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category : Topics

November 26, 2015

New Study Links Climate Change to Mounting Natural Disasters

IED News Release | 26 November 2015

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — More frequent floods, storms, heat waves, and droughts are connected to greater extremes in temperatures and rainfall, according to Global Increase in Climate-Related Disasters, a new study from Independent Evaluation at the Asian Development Bank. In a global analysis spanning the last four decades, the study shows that the rise in climate-related disasters is linked not only to people’s increased exposure and vulnerability, but also to changes in temperature and rainfall resulting from rising greenhouse gases.

The study, published as an ADB Economics Working Paper, is timely given the recent warnings by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other climate monitors that global temperature is already halfway to the “two degree warming” threshold for limiting catastrophic climatic impacts. Released just ahead of the United Nations climate change meetings in Paris in December, these findings add fresh urgency to cutting emissions.

Three implications are inherent in these findings. First, climate impacts are not just concerns for the distant future, but are already being felt. Second, heavy damages from climate-related disasters are being incurred by all countries, rich and poor, although the death toll has been especially high among the poor who are more likely to live in harm’s way, such as in flood-prone areas. And third, it is a mistake to think that climate action—such as switching from dirty fossil fuels to cleaner renewable sources—will hold back economic growth.

Read more at Asian Development Bank.

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category : Topics

November 23, 2015

How Africa's fastest solar power project is lighting up Rwanda

David Smith, Rwamagana, Rwanda
Monday 23 November 2015 10.20 GMT

“Arise, shine for your light has come,” reads a sign at the entrance to the first major solar power farm in east Africa.

The 8.5 megawatt (MW) power plant in Rwanda is designed so that, from a bird’s-eye view, it resembles the shape of the African continent. “Right now we’re in Somalia,” jokes Twaha Twagirimana, the plant supervisor, during a walkabout of the 17-hectare site.

The plant is also evidence, not only of renewable energy’s increasing affordability, but how nimble it can be. The $23.7m (£15.6m) solar field went from contract signing to construction to connection in just a year, defying sceptics of Africa’s ability to realise projects fast.

The setting is magnificent amid Rwanda’s famed green hills, within view of Lake Mugesera, 60km east of the capital, Kigali. Some 28,360 solar panels sit in neat rows above wild grass where inhabitants include puff adders. Tony Blair and Bono have recently taken the tour.

From dawn till dusk the computer-controlled photovoltaic panels, each 1.9 sq metres, tilt to track the sun from east to west, improving efficiency by 20% compared to stationary panels. The panels are from China while the inverters and transformers are from Germany.

Read more at The Guardian.

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category : Topics

November 23, 2015

Palm oil's big issue: Smallholders

By Vaidehi Shah
Monday 23 November 2015

If the palm oil sector wants to be environmentally and socially responsible, big businesses have to help smallholder farmers adopt sustainable cultivation methods, said industry members and financiers at the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) annual conference on Wednesday.

By offering smallholders the training, resources, and administrative support they need to improve their agricultural practices and obtain RSPO’s certification for sustainable palm oil, companies can help reduce environmental impact across the industry and improve farmers’ lives in the process.

At the industry association’s annual roundtable conference, held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Kuala Lumpur from 16 to 19 November, Kelvin Tio, managing director of Indonesian palm oil giant Asian Agri, noted that “smallholders are vital to the industry, and there are lots of opportunities to improve their yield and income”.

RSPO and its member firms already have ongoing smallholder support initiatives, but the industry can do much more to integrate these farmers into the sustainable global supply chain, noted panellists at a discussion about these independent growers.

Read more at Eco-Business.

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category : Topics

November 20, 2015

RSPO sets new targets for sustainable palm oil

By Vaidehi Shah
Friday 20 November 2015

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and its members on Wednesday announced new commitments to reduce the industry’s environmental impact, but warned that their efforts would only make a dent in global sustainability goals if they had government support.

At the industry association’s 13th roundtable conference at the Shangri-La hotel in Kuala Lumpur, RSPO announced that it will publish concession maps of Indonesia and other producing nations, except Malaysia, which prohibits this.

Indonesia is the world’s biggest palm oil producer, but the sector’s expansion in the country has been tainted with illegal deforestation, forest fires and labour rights abuses.

“RSPO is now clear on its legal position on this issue and reinforced its continuous support to members who are willing…to make maps public”, said the organisation in a press statement. However, the timeline and implementation details have yet to be decided.

Read more at Eco-Business.

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category : Topics

November 19, 2015

Yes, EVs are Cleaner than Gasoline-Powered Cars

by Leon Kaye on Thursday, Nov 19th, 2015

It’s the trick question that has left many of us stumped: from the earliest stages of manufacture to the years driving on the road until they are sent to the junkyard, are conventional automobiles or electric cars cleaner for the environment? While acknowledging that electric vehicles (EVs) emit no emissions when running on our streets and highways, many have assumed that those pesky rare earth metals in their massive batteries and the emissions associated with producing the power canceled out any environmental benefits that their drivers enjoyed.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a two-year study has provided the answer. The EV is the cleaner option, hands down.

In order to reach that conclusion, UCS researchers evaluated the entire life cycle of an EV based on the two most popular models sold in the United States—the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S. Looking at the raw materials needed to make a car, the assembly and manufacturing processes, driving, disposal and recycling, the UCS team compared the emissions of EVs to a similarly sized gasoline-powered automobile, with examples including the Ford Focus, Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback, Kia Forte5 and Volkswagen Golf.

Read more at Triple Pundit.

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category : Topics

November 17, 2015

Biodegradable Plastics Are Not the Answer to Reducing Marine Litter, Says UN

Washington D.C., 17 November 2015 - Widespread adoption of products labelled 'biodegradable' will not significantly decrease the volume of plastic entering the ocean or the physical and chemical risks that plastics pose to marine environment, concluded a UN report released today.

The report, "Biodegradable Plastics and Marine Litter. Misconceptions, Concerns and Impacts on Marine Environments", finds that complete biodegradation of plastics occurs in conditions that are rarely, if ever, met in marine environments, with some polymers requiring industrial composters and prolonged temperatures of above 50°C to disintegrate. There is also limited evidence suggesting that labelling products as 'biodegradable' increases the public's inclination to litter.

The report was launched to mark the 20th anniversary of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA), an intergovernmental mechanism hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, "Recent estimates from UNEP have shown as much as 20 million tonnes of plastic end up in the world's oceans each year. Once in the ocean, plastic does not go away, but breaks down into microplastic particles. This report shows there are no quick fixes, and a more responsible approach to managing the lifecycle of plastics will be needed to reduce their impacts on our oceans and ecosystems."

Read more at UNEP NEWS CENTRE.

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category : Topics

November 16, 2015

Business activities that do not respect human rights undermine sustainable development

Geneva, November 16 2015 – On the opening day of the fourth edition of the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) underscored its commitment to scaling up business action in support of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs).

The UNGPs, launched in 2011, establish an authoritative global standard on the respective roles of businesses and governments in helping ensure that companies respect human rights in their own operations and through their business relationships.

Speaking on behalf of the WBCSD, Filippo Veglio, Director of the Social Impact Cluster, underscored the fact that ”meeting basic needs and respecting human rights” has been identified as one of nine key priority areas within the WBCSD’s Action2020 platform. The latter, launched in late 2013, is a science-based action plan engaging companies to implement innovative and scalable business solutions and improve the business case for sustainability. He explained that the focus of the Council’s work lies on identifying solutions to operationalizing the UN Guiding Principles, with the aim of considerably increasing the number of companies knowing and showing that they respect human rights.

Read more at WBCSD.

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category : Topics

November 12, 2015

Boosting Energy Performance of Air Conditioners in ASEAN

Written by: Roap News
11/12/2015 7:52 PM

Bangkok, 13 Nov 2015: With the ASEAN market for air conditioners projected to grow annually by 10 per cent over the next five years, UNEP is working with the ASEAN Standard Harmonization Initiative for Energy Efficiency (ASEAN SHINE) to improve energy performance of room air conditioners and to establish uniform minimum energy performance standards across the countries in ASEAN.

A study undertaken by the project in October 2015 found that the increasing use of air-conditioning is pushing up electricity consumption, which is estimated to account for nearly half of total residential and commercial power demand in ASEAN economies. It also found that in some countries, the majority of room air conditioners are already above the existing national energy efficiency standards.

ASEAN-SHINE will raise and harmonize energy performance standards of conditioners and help countries develop national policy roadmaps. These roadmaps will be based on a regional road map, which sets a regional target for minimum energy performance standard for air conditioners that was endorsed by ASEAN governments this year.

Read more at UNEP Regional Office for Asia Pacific.

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category : Topics

November 12, 2015

Ford looks to geckos to boost the recyclability of its cars

Greg Harman
Thursday 12 November 2015 17.34 GMT

In recent years, the Ford Motor Company has aggressively sought to solve environmental problems related to its products while reducing production costs. Wasted wheat straw often burned by Canadian farmers has been blended into a plastic feature of the Ford Flex to reduce petroleum use. Plastic bottles have been converted into fibers to cover the seats of a recent hybrid research vehicle.

Now, Ford is exploring biomimicry, the practice of solving complex human problems by replicating natural systems, in the hopes of continued economic and sustainability gains. In particular, the company hopes to derive new adhesives by studying the toe pads of the Tokay gecko, which allow the lizard to race across ceilings and glass windows, an ability that has inspired a rush of adhesives research over the last decade.

For Ford, cracking the secret of the Tokay gecko toe could mean boosting recycling rates for its vehicles by a full 10%. A gecko toe-inspired adhesive would allow the car manufacturer to better separate the mishmash of plastics and foams leftover after a car is stripped of its metal insides. “If we could separate it, if we could identify different streams within it, we would stand a much better chance of being able to utilize them for higher-end applications,” said Debbie Mielewski, the senior technical leader for plastics and sustainability research at Ford.

Read more at The Guardian.

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category : Topics

November 11, 2015

Australia’s new emissions rules will put yet another bump in the road for diesels

By Varun Rao and Damon Honnery
Wednesday 11 November 2015

Diesel cars have been rather controversial lately, as anyone who has been following Volkswagen’s recent tribulations will know.

In the past few years diesels have surged in popularity in Australia. They now account for 19.7 per cent of all registered vehicles (up from 13.8 per cent in 2010). The number of registered diesels increased by more than 60 per cent from 2007 to 2012.

Consumers have embraced diesels mainly because of the savings delivered by their favourable fuel economy. But the Volkswagen scandal suggests that some manufacturers can design engines that meet either the requisite emissions standards or the market’s expectations of fuel economy and driveability, but might struggle to achieve both.

Australian emissions standards have generally lagged behind those of Europe and the United States, but the gap will reduce in November 2016, when Australia will adopt the full Euro 5 standard for all light vehicles.

Motorists will see the advent of hitherto unfamiliar emissions control devices, and it could potentially signal the end of the road for booming diesel sales.

Read more at Eco-Business.

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category : Topics

November 10, 2015

From Trees to Tigers, Case Shows Cost of Illegal Logging

By Jani Actman, National Geographic
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 10, 2015

Lumber Liquidators’ ads are hard to miss. They’re bright yellow and boast of the hardwood floor retailer’s low prices in loud black letters. And last month, the public found out where at least some of that cheap wood comes from.

The company, which is based in Virginia, pleaded guilty in court to buying wood that had been illegally harvested in the forests of the Russian Far East, a huge forested tract that stretches from Lake Baikal to the Pacific Ocean. Illegal logging has disrupted life in the region and threatened the survival of the endangered Siberian tiger and the Amur leopard. (Russia’s President, Vladimir Putin, has made preserving the Siberian tiger something of a cause célèbre.)

Lumber Liquidators bought the wood from a Chinese supplier despite knowing of its illegal source, according to the United States Department of Justice. The company agreed to pay more than $13 million as part of a plea agreement.

Read more at National Geographic.

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category : Topics

November 9, 2015

Palm oil: why do we care more about orangutans than migrant workers?

Laura Villadiego
Monday 9 November 2015 11.25 GMT

The thick haze that has covered vast parts of south-east Asia in recent months has put the ecological impact of the palm oil industry back in the spotlight, but the ongoing issue of tough working conditions for plantation workers remains shrouded behind a veil of silence.

When the Dutch introduced the first palm oil trees on the Indonesian island of Sumatra in the 19th century, they also brought migrants from India and China to cultivate the plantations.

Today, Indonesia and neighbouring Malaysia account for about 85% of the global production of palm oil and employ as many as 3.5 million workers to maintain plantations and harvest the most traded oil in the world.

The palm oil industry would not be possible without migrant labour. This is the conclusion of Pablo Pacheco, principal scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research, who points out that the palm oil industry in turn has promoted a “migrant flux”.

Read more at The Guardian.

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category : Topics

November 6, 2015

UN Environment Programme Statement on Southeast Asian Fires

Nairobi, Kenya, 6 November 2015 - UN Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner issued the following statement today regarding the ongoing fires on the islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Papua:
"UNEP has observed with increasing alarm the spread of forest and peat fires on the islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Papua. We are deeply concerned about the effects these fires are having not only on the health of local populations, ecosystems and wildlife, but the global climate as well.

"Reports that the fires are emitting as much carbon into the atmosphere in a day as some countries are in a year reflects the global ramifications of this disaster. Locally, one-third of the endangered wild orangutans on Borneo are threatened by the fires, and biodiversity hotspots such as the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra are under extreme threat.

"While the fires this year are particularly damaging, this is an annual, systemic issue that will need to be addressed with an integrated approach over the long term. This issue spans human health, climate change and sustainable use of ecosystem services. It is important that any solution take into account the multifaceted nature of the problem.

"Of immediate need is the issuance of a national moratorium on using fires for clearing any type of forest land until fires have stopped, rains have re-appeared and, most importantly, Indonesia has rethought how to allocate and manage peatland and its forests resources. Large-scale land owners and companies will need to be held accountable for damage caused. At the same time, there must be a major effort given over to promoting sustainable business practices, including in procurement and supply chains, and raising consumer awareness of unsustainable palm oil products.

Read more at UNEP NEWS CENTRE.

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category : Topics

November 6, 2015

The journey towards more sustainable rubber leads to Russian dandelions

Hannah Gould
Friday 6 November 2015 12.36 GMT

The life of a tyre begins with the rubber tree in south-east Asia, which produces around 90% of the world’s natural rubber supply. The tyre industry consumes around 70% of all natural rubber grown because it offers performance qualities, such as resistance and load-bearing capability, unmatched by synthetic alternatives.

Increasing car ownership in countries such as India and China is driving up demand for rubber. To meet this, recent research estimates rubber plantations in south-east Asia will have to expand by 8.5m hectares by 2024, with potentially “catastrophic” consequences for forests, primates and endangered birds.

The industry also faces supply chain risks. The reason that rubber production is so heavily concentrated in Asia is because commercial cultivation in South America is restricted by a fungal disease.

Dandelions: an alternative source of rubber?
To reduce dependency on the south-east Asian rubber trees, the search is on for alternatives. Research project Drive4EU is looking to the Russian dandelion.

Indigenous to the high plateau of south-east Kazakhstan, and the adjacent areas of China and Kyrgyzstan, the Russian dandelion produces a high quality of natural rubber and was used by the Soviet Union during the second world war to produce army vehicle tyres.

Read more at The Guardian.

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category : Topics

November 5, 2015

Support responsible sourcing to stop south east Asian smog

BY PAUL SNELL
05.11.2015

Consumers should patronise firms who have made a pledge to source responsibly to help alleviate a thick smog that affects countries in south east Asia.

According to Consumers International, the haze which affects Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia is in part caused by the burning of forests for the production of pulp, paper and palm oil plantations, mainly in Indonesia and Borneo.

The consumer rights group has called for a boycott of products produced by companies that source wood, pulp or paper products that contribute to the haze.

As it can be difficult to identify which firms are purchasing from those contributing to the fires, instead CI is asking consumers to support brands with internationally recognised symbols of responsible sourcing such as Forest Stewardship Council certification.

Read more at Supply Management.

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category : Topics

November 4, 2015

The future is here: mass-market hydrogen cars take to Britain's roads

Adam Vaughan
Wednesday 4 November 2015 13.00 GMT

The first mass production hydrogen cars, billed for more than a decade as a clean alternative to petrol and diesel vehicles but only glimpsed as concepts at automotive trade shows, have arrived on British roads.

The most abundant element in the universe has added allure for carmakers in the wake of the Volkswagen pollution scandal and revelations about the gap between lab and real-world emissions tests.

Leading the charge are South Korean manufacturer Hyundai, with a £53,000 “crossover” – a squashed SUV that looks like a normal car, and the world’s biggest carmaker, Toyota, with a futuristically styled saloon priced at £66,000. Honda has promised to launch its model in the UK during 2017.

“The only emissions out of the back of the car is water, either as water vapour or droplets, so you have no CO2, no NOx, no particulates,” said Robin Hayles, manager of sustainable fuel development at Hyundai.

Read more at The Guardian.

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category : Topics

November 3, 2015

Scottish Government encourages procurers to ask about treatment of workers

The Scottish government has released new procurement guidance that encourages public procurers to question the fairness of working practices within companies invited to bid for contracts. While the guidance is not mandatory, the government says that it should only be ignored if the procurers have “a very good reason” to do so. The guidance will apply to procurement processes launched on or after 1 November 2015.

In deciding what constitutes fair working practices, the Scottish Government points to the payment of a “living wage”, which in Scotland is calculated at £7.85 per hour. Under EU law, procurers may not demand that workers be paid beyond minimum wage, but can use other means to encourage suppliers to do so. Zero-hour contracts, in which staff can be hired without a guaranteed amount of work, should also be viewed unfavourably according to the government.

Read more at Sustainable Procurement Resource Centre.

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