New research has ranked Australia among the top 10 countries with the biggest ecological footprint per person. The World Wildlife Fund’s 2012 Living Planet Report – which the not-for-profit group describes as “the leading biennial survey of the Earth’s health” – is a collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint network, and uses the global Living Planet Index to measure changes in the health of the planet’s ecosystems by tracking 9,000 populations of more than 2,600 species. The result shows almost a 30 per cent decrease since 1970, with the tropics the hardest hit, where there has been a 60 per cent decline in less than 40 years. Australia checks in at number seven in the ranking of the top 10 countries with the biggest ecological footprint per person, with Qatar, at number one, followed by Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, the United States and Belgium. Canada is ranked number eight, after Australia, and the Netherlands and Ireland bring in the rear.
The WWF says the report, which was launched today from the International Space Station by Dutch astronaut André Kuipers, also illustrates how the world’s demand on natural resources has become unsustainable, reinforcing the impact of human population growth and over-consumption as critical driving forces behind environmental pressure. “We are living as if we have an extra planet at our disposal,” said Jim Leape, WWF International’s Director General. “We are using 50 per cent more resources that the Earth can sustainably produce and unless we change course, that number will grow fast – by 2030 even two planets will not be enough,” The report also highlights the impact of urbanisation as a growing dynamic, pointing out that by 2050, two out of every three people will live in a city, making the need for humanity to develop new and improved ways of managing natural resources an urgent one.
The report sets out 16 “priority actions” that it says will be needed to reverse the declining Living Planet Index and bring the Ecological Footprint back down to within planetary limits. These include improved consumption patterns, putting an economic value on natural capital, and creating legal and policy frameworks that manage equitable access to food, water and energy. “We can create a prosperous future that provides food, water and energy for the nine, or perhaps 10 billion people who will be sharing the planet in 2050,” said Leape. “Solutions lie in such areas as reducing waste, smarter water management and using renewable sources of energy that are clean and abundant – such as wind and sunlight.”
Leape says Rio+20, the UN Sustainable Development conference that is being staged in Rio de Janiero in five weeks’ time, provides a key opportunity for global leaders to set a new course to meet the challenges outlined in the WWF report. “Rio+20 can and must be the moment for governments to set a new course towards sustainability,” Leape said. “(It’s) a unique opportunity for coalitions of the committed of governments, cities and businesses to join forces and play a crucial role in keeping this a living planet.”
Swift solar for Germany
A 28MW solar power plant in Germany has been inaugurated and is producing power just 7 weeks after ground was first broken at the site. The €50 million ($64 million) GERO Solarpark in Amsdorf in Saxony-Anhalt started generating power on April 20, less than seven weeks after construction was started on the site, which is made up of 55 hectares of disused former open cut brown coal mine and slag heaps. The solar PV plant will cover the annual energy requirements of around 8,000 households. Renewable energy now accounts for around 75 per cent of the capacity at Amsdorf.
The WA government has revealed that the state’s feed-in tariff will cost $46 million more than previously forecast after it was left open for an extra month while state authorities tried to clarify data over the uptake of the solar panels. WA had initially budgeted $28 million for its net FiT, but this was expanded to $118 million when it discovered how popular it was with consumers. A 150MW cap was imposed. However, desite warnings that the cap was being breached, the scheme was left open for a further month, adding an extra 15MW of capacity and an extra $46 million in costs. A total of 76,000 households took part in the scheme, which has since closed.
Google’s wind link
A plan by Google to build a $5 billion transmission line linking wind farms off the east coast of the US to the main grid has cleared a major hurdle after being approved by Department of Interior officials. The Atlantic Wind Connection line plans to transport up to 7,000MW of offshore wind power, and begin transmitting in 2016 or 2017. The environmental review of the line, which will consider its impact fishing and other factors, could take up to 18 to 24 months.