Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Prince Charles: rewire the global economy to stop climate change
Prince Charles has said that “profound changes” to the global economic system are needed in order to avert environmental catastrophe, in an uncompromising speech delivered in front of an audience of senior business leaders and politicians. The heir to the throne – often criticised for his meddling in political affairs – argued that ending the taxpayer subsidies enjoyed by coal, oil and gas companies could reduce the carbon emissions driving climate change by an estimated 13%. Although the prince’s passion for environmental causes is well known, the speech delivered on Thursday evening in St James’s Palace, London was particularly pointed in its criticism of companies that protected vested interests and came with a report that proposed raising taxes on them.

Energy and Climate Change

New coal plants ‘most urgent’ threat to the planet, warns OECD head
Governments must rethink plans for new coal-fired power plants around the world, as these are now the “most urgent” threat to the future of the planet, the head of the OECD has warned. In unusually strong terms for the organisation – best known as a club of the world’s richest countries – its secretary general Angel Gurria, told governments to think “twice, or three, or four times” before allowing new coal-fired plants to go ahead.  “They will still be emitting years from now,” he warned. As a result, many could turn into “stranded assets”, having to be mothballed decades before their economic lifetime had expired.

India’s climate pledge ‘critically important’, says UN climate chief
A strong pledge to curb carbon emissions by India, the world’s third largest polluter, will be “critically important” to a meaningful deal at the crucial UN climate summit in Paris in December, the UN’s climate chief has said. India has so far resisted calls for an ambitious target, citing the millions in the country who do not have access to energy and the need to pull those people out of poverty. Instead, it has suggested that it may make two climate pledges: one that can be achieved with domestic resources, and another that would be possible with financial and technological aid from the developed world.

Scientists convinced European heat waves boosted by climate change
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As Germany and Spain sweated and London sweltered through its hottest July day on record this week, scientists said it is “virtually certain” that climate change is increasing the likelihood of such heat waves in Europe. In real-time data analysis released on Friday, a team of international climate scientists from universities, meteorological services and research organizations said the kind of heat waves hitting Europe this week – defined as three-day periods of excessive heat – are becoming much more frequent in the region.

Cyclone Raquel to give El Nino a major kick along
It’s a great time to be a weather watcher if extremes or unusual events get your pulse running. Australia entered July with little if any natural snow on its alpine peaks although Thursday’s cold front helped bring some relief to the struggling ski resorts. Further fronts may bring much-needed reinforcements of snow early next week. What transfixed meteorologists in the Pacific, though, was the formation of Cyclone Raquel north of the Solomon Islands. For the southern hemisphere, tropical cyclones have not been recorded in winter since the arrival of the satellite era brought reliable storm detection.

Chaotic unseasonal storms strike Marshall Islands and Guam as eight systems threaten western Pacific
Residents of the Marshall Islands capital Majuro are recovering after a powerful storm damaged houses and smashed boats on Friday, as an unseasonal typhoon brewed nearby. The system was upgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday afternoon and named Nangka. Majuro Atoll’s normally calm lagoon was turned into a cauldron of high waves on Friday, ripping fishing vessels and yachts from their moorings and smashing them on to reefs.

Solar Impulse completes epic flight to Hawaii
Solar Impulse, the aeroplane that is powered only by the sun, has landed in Hawaii after making a historic 7,200km flight across the Pacific from Japan. Pilot Andre Borschberg brought the vehicle gently down on to the runway of Kalaeloa Airport at 05:55 local time (15:55 GMT; 16:55 BST). The distance covered and the time spent in the air – 118 hours – are records for manned, solar-powered flight. The duration is also an absolute record for a solo, un-refuelled journey

Environment and Biodiversity

CO2 emissions threaten ocean crisis
Scientists have warned that marine life will be irreversibly changed unless CO2 emissions are drastically cut.  Writing in Science, experts say the oceans are heating, losing oxygen and becoming more acidic because of CO2. They warn that the 2C maximum temperature rise for climate change agreed by governments will not prevent dramatic impacts on ocean systems. And they say the range of options is dwindling as the cost of those options is skyrocketing.

Wild Things – addressing biodiversity loss
NEW ZEALAND – The idea that biodiversity loss is not inevitable – we have a choice – is the subject which will be discussed by an assembly of experts at Wild Things, a conference organised by the Environmental Defence Society (EDS). Taking place on 12-13 August at the Viaduct Events Centre, Auckland, the event will encompass local ecological voices along with key international speakers, sharing their range of knowledge from environmental situations overseas. The EDS says on the current trajectory, kiwi will be functionally extinct on the mainland within a few decades – a sobering symbolic image of what could happen to New Zealand’s ecosystems.

Spectacular glow worm photography shines light on New Zealand’s cave beauty
These ethereal images could be computer-generated Hollywood space movie scenes but are actually nature at its most awesome. Glow worms living in New Zealand caves were captured on film by photographer Joseph Michael in a series called the Luminosity project. Arachnocampa luminosa is a species of glow worm endemic to New Zealand and found abundantly throughout the country.

Photo: Glow worms light up limestone caves on New Zealand's North Island. (Supplied: Joseph Michael)

Photo: Glow worms light up limestone caves on New Zealand’s North Island. (Supplied: Joseph Michael)

Economy and Business

Holy cow! Milk supplies overwhelm US dairies
There’s so much milk flowing out of US cows these days that some is ending up in dirt pits because dairies can’t find buyers. Domestic output is set to be the highest ever for a fifth straight year. Farmers are still making money as prices tumble because of cheaper and more abundant feed for their herds. Supplies of raw milk are topping capacity at processing plants in parts of the US and compounding a global surplus even with demand improving.

Ecologist says warnings to Centennial Coal on Lithgow mine led to sacking
AUSTRALIA – An environmental consultant to Centennial Coal says he was sacked by the company after warning that its longwall mining was causing serious damage to endangered swamps on Newnes Plateau, near Lithgow. Ecologist Ray Mjadwesch says he raised concerns with the company in 2001. He later took those fears to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, a move that led to his dismissal.

Look sharp, litter less
Non-disposable razors used for traditional wet shaving, once labeled a relic of the past alongside badger hair brushes, are making a comeback after years of confinement in the cabinet behind your grandfather’s bathroom mirror. In fact, that’s exactly where Andrew James, founder of New Zealand’s leading online retailer of shaving products for men Goodfella, found his inspiration. After years of frustration with throwaway razors, disposable cartridge blades, and sensitive skin prone to the rash that generally comes along with the use of low-quality shavers, James created Goodfella by perfecting a safety razor passed down to him from a previous generation.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Australian packaging industry falling short of recycling goal, may cut target
Australia’s packaging industry is considering cutting its recycling goal after an internal review found imports of plastics were far higher than previously thought, leaving waste reuse falling further shy of targets. The Australian Packaging Covenant, which covers some 900 companies and the state and federal governments, had set a target of recycling 70 per cent of all used packaging over the five-year plan to June 30, 2015. However, a leaked excerpt of a review of the period found the industry would miss its recycling rate goal and recommended the council consider dropping the target.

Politics and Society

Good spend counter
The phenomenon that is Conscious Consumers is expanding its ambition in a big way, through a six-week campaign to fund the world’s first Good Spend Counter. Ben Gleisner, CEO of Conscious Consumers, explains: “The challenge over the last three years running Conscious Consumers is convincing businesses that they will get more customers if they use more sustainable practices – buying free-range eggs, paying workers a living wage or using organic milk for example – The Good Spend Counter will do just this.” ‘Conscious consumers’ will set up a profile and register their existing EFTPOS and/or credit card and be able to identify the issues they care about most in a sustainable business. The Good Spend Counter will then tally the money spent by consumers in Conscious Consumer accredited business, and communicate the things they care about.

Queensland Government vows to tighten land clearing legislation amid 35 illegal cases
AUSTRALIA – The Queensland Government has revealed it is investigating 35 alleged illegal tree clearing cases in the state and has vowed to tighten legislation. In a statement provided to Landline, the Government said the alleged offences were in addition to eight finalised vegetation incidences. The State Government said tree clearing legislation would be tightened, while “taking a considered approach to implementing protections that will promote sustainable agriculture as well as addressing increases in carbon emissions and the long-term health of the Great Barrier Reef”.

Indian miner Adani hires Labor and Liberal staffers to make its case
AUSTRALIA – The Indian mining company behind Australia’s largest new coal development has hired influential figures from both sides of politics as it moves to convince governments of the benefits of its mine in Queensland. Adani plans to build the massive Carmichael mine which would produce up to 60 million tonnes of coal a year for shipment through the Great Barrier Reef.

Springvale mine extension: Newnes Plateau swamps face uncertain future
AUSTRALIA – What price the habitat of the endangered Blue Mountains skink, the giant dragonfly and rare swamp plants, and an increase in salinity in rivers that feed Sydney’s water drinking supply? Is it worth the loss of 300 jobs and a possible terminal blow to a town that has already lost a power station and two other mines in the past two years? This week the Planning and Assessment Commission handed down its report on the extension to the Springvale mine in Lithgow, and with the wisdom of Solomon, tried to split the difference between what appears to be irreconcilable interests.

Crowdfunding helps convert Margaret River winemaker to organic operation
A West Australian winemaker has been paid by consumers to convert to organic, after a successful crowdfunding campaign helped him buy a Margaret River vineyard. Ben Gould used the money raised through crowdfunding for a deposit to buy the vineyard in Yallingup Siding, where he will produce his wine organically on site.

Built Environment

Off the grid: Defying snow in Burkes Pass
NEW ZEALAND – The Corcoran’s cows told them where to build an off-the-grid house by wandering to the warmest place on their small piece of land in the heart of Mackenzie Country. Sitting in their solar powered bolthole, southeast of Tekapo at the base of Burkes Pass, John and Barbara Corcoran concede they carried on without much trouble while some in Mackenzie were left without power for five days following a huge dumping of snow on June 18.

Off the grid: Hydro power in Little River
NEW ZEALAND – “Logically, anyone who goes to alternative energy and hasn’t got a solar hot water system is an idiot. I haven’t got a solar hot water system”, laughs Murray Peden, in his home in the hills high above the isolated rural community of Little River, Banks Peninsula. Despite that shortcoming, he has lived here off grid for 17 years, and even operates an automotive workshop, Banks Peninsula Automotive, alongside his home which he shares with his wife, Tori, and their two young children. The steep southeast-facing section is 700 metres from the nearest power supply. “I thought that could either be a disadvantage or an opportunity. I looked at it as an opportunity.”

Off the grid: Hippies of Motueka
NEW ZEALAND – Their friends now call them “the hippies of Dehra Doon”. Up a long shingle driveway, 10 minutes beyond Motueka, past the solar panels, the kereru sitting on tree branches and the free range turkeys, are the Andersons’. They insist they aren’t “greenies”. They just always had a dream to live off the grid. “It seemed like an adventure,” Grada says.

City councillors endorse new coastal development rules
Proposed new planning rules restricting development in parts of Christchurch considered at risk from coastal erosion have been signed off by the city council. Cr David East though believes they are too tough and the council is over-reacting to the risk posed by climate change and sea level rise. The Christchurch City Council is proposing the restrictions in areas of the city and Banks Peninsula where there is a high risk of coastal erosion or inundation over the next 50 to 100 years. New development would only be permitted in those areas if the applicant can demonstrate they can mitigate the risks.

Christchurch's coastline is at high risk of erosion as this 2001 picture of New Brighton beach shows.

Christchurch’s coastline is at high risk of erosion as this 2001 picture of New Brighton beach shows.

Food Systems

How demand for health supplements is harming the environment
Growing demand for omega-3 health supplements is leaving Antarctic waters short of krill, according to a marine conservation group that is blaming Australian manufacturer Blackmores. But the supplements giant insists it sources the tiny crustaceans, which are a staple food for some whales, using only certified methods. Sea Shepherd Australia on Thursday launched a campaign targeting Blackmores over their manufacture of pills, EcoKrill, for which it’s claimed factory ships are vacuuming the ocean of krill.

Going the extra mile for sustainable farming
Waikato sheep and beef farmer Charlie Lea reckons you can’t get much more traditional than his way of farming, but his eye for a rural environmental business opportunity is anything but. With wife Helen, Lea farms Ratanui, a 225ha property between Karapiro and Matamata. From there they also run a 12-man rural weed spraying operation, a native flora planting business, a native plant and tree nursery, and soon, a riparian planting planning and maintenance venture for farmers. The former shepherd says he was once like a lot of farmers, cutting down trees to make more grass, but Helen, a former head landscape architect for the Hamilton City Council, “brought out the green in me”.


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