Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Today’s top story is a blog on how big business can be transformationally good, rather than less bad, from a guy who’s done it with IKEA. In other news some serious stories on cyberspace and the massive human trafficking trade, an analysis of a classic dystopian novel for lessons to be learned today, two articles on how democracy is being undermined by elitist public servants, and an essay on the risks facing businesses who don’t use a regenerative or circular business model. In renewables news, the fossil fuel industry continues to decline, India announces the biggest ever tender for solar power plant, and Australia passes 3 million small solar installations.

Top Story

Profiles of Paris: Steve Howard on helping business be a force for good | We Mean Business Coalition
Do you think business can be a force for good? I believe the answer is yes: I would like to share why and some lessons I learnt from my time in IKEA Group and setting up the We Mean Business coalition. I joined IKEA to see if I could help a global business get on-track to be sustainable and to have a positive impact on the world. Not a little bit sustainable. Not just do some nice things alongside the business, not greenwashing, but to embed sustainability right through the core of the business.

Climate Change and Energy

Some rare good climate news: the fossil fuel industry is weaker than ever | Bill McKibben | The Guardian
If you’re looking for good news on the climate front, don’t look to the Antarctic. Last week’s spate of studies documenting that its melt rates had tripled is precisely the kind of data that underscores the almost impossible urgency of the moment. And don’t look to Washington DC, where the unlikely survival of the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, continues to prove the political power of the fossil fuel industry. It’s as if he’s on a reality show where the premise is to see how much petty corruption one man can get away with.

India energy minister flags massive 100GW solar tender | RenewEconomy
India’s energy minister R K Singh has flagged a massive solar tender of 100GW (yes, that’s 100,000MW) – by far the biggest in the world, as the fastest growing energy consumer turns increasingly to renewables to satisfy its enormous needs. Singh did not give a direct timetable for the new tender, and given its size it would likely the a few years, but he did say that India will over achieve its renewable energy target of 175GW by 2022.

Small solar installs pass 3 million mark in Australia | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – Rooftop solar and solar hot water installs in Australia have passed the three million-mark, according to the latest data from the Clean Energy Regulator, as homes and businesses continue to take the power back against rising energy costs. The CER said on Thursday that the new small-scale solar milestone had been boosted by a renewed boom in rooftop solar installs that meant one in five Australian households were now generating at least some of their own power.

Australia passes 3 million small solar installations

Australia passes 3 million small solar installations

South-East Queensland is droughtier and floodier than we thought | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – New data recording the past 1,500 years of flows in the Brisbane River have revealed that South-East Queensland’s climate – once assumed to be largely stable – is in fact highly variable. Until now, we have only had access to 200 years of weather records in South-East Queensland. But our new research used marine sediment cores (dirt from the bottom of the ocean) to reconstruct stream flows and rainfall over past millennia. This shows that long droughts and regular floods are both prominent features in South-East Queensland’s climate. This is concerning.

Surf, sand, and rising tides: Waikato research looks at impact of climate change on coasts |
NEW ZEALAND – Raglan’s Ngarunui Beach is crumbling. Winter storms and angry waves have attacked the shores and now the escarpment, where erosion has occurred, is nearly two metres tall. It’s not just West Coast beaches that are affected, erosion is eating away at New Zealand’s coastline, Waikato University Professor Karin Bryan said.

Kiwi scientist’s study looking at using seaweed to store carbon among ‘world-changing’ ideas | NZ Herald
A study co-authored by a Kiwi scientist has been singled out among 250 ground-breaking findings that could “help change the world”. Springer, a US-based company that publishes academic journals, selected 250 published scientific findings across all disciplines in an initiative called Change the World, One Article at a Time. Springer said it believes the selected articles, all published in 2017, can have an impact on society’s most pressing problems.

Environment and Biodiversity

Tourism preventing Kenya’s cheetahs from raising young, study finds | The Guardian
KENYA – High levels of tourism can lead to a dramatic reduction in the number of cheetahs able to raise their young to independence, new research has found. A study in Kenya’s Maasai Mara savannah found that in areas with a high density of tourist vehicles, the average number of cubs a mother cheetah raised to independence was just 0.2 cubs per litter – less than a tenth of the 2.3 cubs per litter expected in areas with low tourism.

Coral Reefs Prevent $4.3 Billion in Flood Damage Annually | The Pew Charitable Trusts
Protecting the top 1 meter of nearshore, shallow-water coral reefs can save countries across the world $4.3 billion in annual flood protection benefits, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications. The research was led by Mike Beck, lead marine scientist at The Nature Conservancy, and supported by his 2012 Pew fellowship in marine conservation. Healthy coral ecosystems regulate flooding and mitigate storm damages, providing natural protection for shorelines and adjacent areas. When corals are lost, the result is increased coastal flooding, which in turn incurs economic impacts on residents, communities, and government at all levels.

Economy and Business

How the US Can Meet its Emissions Targets with a Carbon Tax | World Resources Institute
This week’s creation of Americans for Carbon Dividends, a campaign created by former Senators John Breaux and Trent Lott, shows growing momentum for a serious bipartisan discussion about pricing carbon pollution in the United States. The initiative supports a carbon dividend plan proposed by the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), which would set a price of $40 per ton of carbon pollution. Its endorsement by former Federal Reserve chairpeople Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, in addition to major corporations from Allianz to Exelon to First Solar, reflects the fact that securing a strong economy and addressing climate change can go hand-in-hand.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Investors can no longer ignore the exposure to the real threat | WBCSD
The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Circle Economy, PGGM, KPMG and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development launch the “Linear Risks Essay” which demonstrates the real business threats linear economic business practices are creating. These include risks associated with the use of scarce and non-renewable resources; prioritisation and sales of products produced with virgin resources; the failure to collaborate; and failing to innovate or adapt. These are all factors that will negatively impact the ability of organisations to continue business as usual.

Arnhem Land beaches reaching crisis point as Indonesian waste floats ashore | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – It was a video seen by millions of people worldwide: a diver swimming through Indonesian waters thick with plastic pollution on a scale he said he’d never seen before. But one of the frontlines of this global problem is much further out of the spotlight, on remote Australian beaches so pristine and well protected that some require a permit before you can set foot on them.

Photo: The bags of rubbish are filled with domestic waste — toothbrushes, coat hangers and hard plastics. (Supplied: Blue Douglas)

Photo: The bags of rubbish are filled with domestic waste — toothbrushes, coat hangers and hard plastics. (Supplied: Blue Douglas)

Politics and Society

Australia’s public servants: dedicated, highly trained … and elitist | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – One of the limitations of popular rule is that the people can’t vote on every matter. Instead, faced daily with complex decisions on everything from the environment to aviation to foreign affairs, governments often take the lead. But governments still consult citizens in order to be guided by the people’s broad values and policy preferences. That, at least, is the theory of how modern democracies function. And it is a useful theory: it preserves the notion that “the people” are still in charge.

Dodgy decisions follow when experts are ignored | SMH
AUSTRALIA – This month, the NSW government enshrined new legislation affording unprecedented protections for feral animals inside a World Heritage area. This decision exemplifies the growing disconnect between decision makers and expert advice, the widening gulf between considered evidence-based policy and reactive emotion-driven politics. Beyond horses and mountains, this speaks to broader issues we need to resolve. About how we make difficult decisions, about how we deal with conflicts of interest, and how we need to resuscitate the moribund concept of “public good”.

Murray-Darling laws will not stop water theft, environmental lawyers argue | ABC News
Environmental lawyers have criticised new laws in New South Wales aimed at preventing water-stealing from the Murray-Darling river system, arguing it leaves gaps in metering and will not stop thefts. Under the state’s so-called “tougher” new laws, corporations caught illegally taking water face penalties of up to $5 million, while individuals face fines of up to $500,000.

The sheep look forward: Counterfactuals, dystopias, and ecological science fiction as a social science enterprise | Elementa (Book Talk)
John Brunner’s 1972 novel, The Sheep Look Up, is the story of the year leading up to a global ecological and political catastrophe. Set primarily in the United States in an unspecified near future, The Sheep Look Up tells the story of “death by a thousand cuts”: problem upon problem, malfeasance upon malfeasance, which accumulate, reinforce each other and are met only by a failing political and economic system that ultimately collapses under its own weight. This article reflects on themes and topics of the novel that resonate for social science theorists and teachers in the environmental social sciences, including global environmental politics.

Chasing Shadows | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Modern technology – be it mundane messaging apps or complex cryptocurrencies – is fuelling the modern-day slave trade by enabling traffickers to ensnare more victims, expand their illicit empires, and outfox law enforcement, experts say. With a click, tap or a swipe – it’s all at their fingertips. Now experts wonder if the same high-tech toolkit can be used against the traffickers to rescue victims and stop slavery.

Built Environment

Cities face dramatic rise in heat, flood risks by 2050, researchers say | PLACE
In just 30 years, cities around the world will face dramatically higher risks from extreme heat, coastal flooding, power blackouts and food and water shortages unless climate-changing emissions are curbed, urban researchers warned Tuesday. Today, for instance, over 200 million people in 350 cities face stifling heat where average daily peak temperatures hit 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) for three months of the year, according to a study released by C40 Cities, a network of major world cities pushing climate action.

Food Systems

Brazilian consumers lend farmers a hand to go organic | Thomson Reuters Foundation
BRAZIL – Every week, farmer Thiago Kaiser fills his truck with dozens of boxes of organic food to be delivered directly to those who will eat it in Brasilia, Brazil’s capital city. Kaiser is one of a growing number of Brazilian farmers paid by customers to grow organic fruit and vegetables through a shared-production system. His farm does not sell any of its produce on the open market, including restaurants and supermarkets.