Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Dawn of the Anthropocene: five ways we know humans have triggered a new geological epoch
Is the Anthropocene real? That is, the vigorously debated concept of a new geological epoch driven by humans. Our environmental impact is indeed profound – there is little debate about that – but is it significant on a geological timescale, measured over millions of years? And will humans leave a distinctive mark upon the layers of rocks that geologists of 100,000,000AD might use to investigate the present day? Together with other members of the Anthropocene Working Group we’ve just published a study in Science that pulls much of the evidence together.

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Energy and Climate Change

Ten big trends in solar, wind and storage to watch out for in 2016
AUSTRALIA – It’s that time of year again. Time to consider what the big trends of the next 12 months might be. And for Australia, in the energy space, there is no prizes for guessing the big mover in 2016: battery storage. This will not be the only thing of importance, however. There will be ambitious plans for decarbonisation pushed by states, regional and local governments. The push against wind and solar will become the new denialism, arguments will rage about consumer tariffs as networks seek to protect their revenues, and there will be new technologies in the market such as large scale solar and wave energy. And, of course, there will be an election.

Western Power’s poles and wires risk losing value as solar surges in popularity, analysts say
AUSTRALIA – Western Power’s poles and wires are the Western Australian Government’s best electricity assets to sell in a market trying to adjust to the surging popularity of rooftop solar, analysts say. But they risk losing value or even becoming stranded assets when solar battery storage becomes affordable in coming years.

China to shut down coal mines
China will not approve any new coal mines for the next three years in a bid to reduce carbon emissions, according to the country’s National Energy Administration (NEA). The NEA says more than 1,000 existing mines will also be closed over 2016, reducing total coal production by 70 million tonnes.

Antarctic scientists head to biological hotspot studying climate change in Southern Ocean
For the first time since Sir Douglas Mawson’s Antarctic expeditions in the 1920s and 1930s, scientists will be conducting climate studies in the area known as the Kerguelen Plateau, in the Southern Ocean. The Kerguelen Plateau, hundreds of kilometres north of Mawson Station, is one of only three lines of longitude where the Antarctic Circumpolar Current flows across the Antarctic continental shelf, the deep ocean and subantarctic islands. That makes it one of the most highly productive regions for polar plants and animals, and valuable toothfish, icefish and krill fisheries.

Environment and Biodiversity

Soil Is Key To Cutting Carbon and Growing More Food
Regenerating nutrients and the health in the soil could form a key part of reducing CO2 and ensuring a secure food system in the long-term. Intensive modern agricultural methods, deep ploughing and high fertiliser use are among the factors that have reduced nutrient levels in soil stocks globally. At one time, those methods enabled higher yields, but those returns have been decreasing over the course of the last decade. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in regenerative agriculture methods, which put fewer chemicals into the soil and actively invest in rebuilding natural capital.

Hydro dam boom threatens a third of the world’s freshwater fish
One third of the world’s freshwater fish are at risk if dozens of large hydroelectric dams are built in the Amazon, Congo and Mekong basins, aquatic ecologists have warned. Very few dams have so far been built in the basins of the world’s three great tropical rivers because of their remoteness and vast catchment areas. But rising demand for clean electricity in burgeoning tropical cities, and new roads to areas once considered impossible to access, has led to plans for over 450 dams for the three mega-diverse river basins.

EU scientists begin review of ban on pesticides linked to bee declines
The European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) has begun a review that could pave the way for rolling back a pioneering EU-wide ban on three neonicotinoid pesticides, that are thought to have ravaged European bee populations. In a letter to the European commission last month, which the Guardian has seen, the EU scientists said that they would finish their risk evaluation by the end of January 2017… The expert panel could choose to tighten, as well as soften, the current ban on the use of thiamethoxam, clothianidin and imidacloprid, which was introduced following an Efsa ruling in 2012 that they posed an “unacceptable” danger to bees.

Manatees ready to be dropped from endangered species list, officials say
The West Indian manatee was once considered to be on the brink of extinction, but thanks to a significant improvement in population and habitat, US wildlife officials have now proposed the species no longer be listed as endangered.

Unique Australian wildlife risks vanishing as ecosystems suffer death by a thousand cuts
Australia is renowned globally for its vast expanses of untouched wilderness. But for anyone who has travelled across its breadth, the myth of Australia’s pristine wilderness is quickly debunked as evidence of human impact spreads before the eye. Most ecosystems have suffered huge losses. In a recent study, we looked at the magnitude of land clearing since European settlement. Some ecosystems have been devastated.

Campaign to clean up waterways
NEW ZEALAND – A campaign calling for cleaner lakes and rivers has been launched this summer, as monitoring data shows many spots across the country remain unsafe for a dip. A newly-established group, backed by the Tourism Export Council, has launched a major petition demanding stronger Government legislation that would raise the minimum standard for freshwater. So-called “bottom line” standards under the Government’s National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, set in 2014, included a requirement for regional councils to manage freshwater bodies so people’s health was safeguarded when wading or boating.

Help spot the Maui’s dolphin this summer
New Zealanders spending the summer on our coasts are asked to keep an eye out for the endangered Māui’s dolphin, and report any sightings to the Department of Conservation on 0800 DOC HOT. The dolphins live off the North Island’s west coast, ranging from the Whanganui River mouth in the Manawatu-Wanganui region, right up to Dargaville in Northland, meaning they may be visible to people in these areas and those in between this summer.

Economy and Business

How to help your company prepare for climate change in 2016
As 2015 comes to a close, we can look forward to starting a new year with a global climate change agreement that has been signed by 95% of the world’s governments. We’re equipped with a multitude of reports that parse all of its endless details. But the deal leaves many companies with a big question: how can they continue to grow while cutting their environmental impacts in line with the new climate goals?

Capitalism under the spotlight: six must-read books
Capitalism took a bashing in 2015: Corbynomics, the rise of anti-austerity parties Podemos and Syriza, Hillary Clinton slamming our culture of short-termism, COP21 protests and more. Capitalism – and more specifically its failings – is likely to be as brashly and uncompromisingly in the headlines this year as it has been over the past 12 months.  To prepare you, we’ve put together a reading list of books we’ve loved and learned from. It’s not easy to narrow down a list of must-reads to just six, but we’ve done our best.

Top five sustainable technology trends of 2015
From a smog-scrubbing tower to an affordable water purifier, we have seen bold ideas in 2015 for solving some of the toughest environmental problems. Here are five stories that highlight some of the technologies that promise to advance sustainability efforts by businesses and consumers.

The North Face Fall 2016 Line Will Use 100% Certified Responsible Down
One year earlier than expected, The North Face will use 100 percent certified responsible down in all of the retail and wholesale down products in its Fall 2016 line. The down fill will be certified through the Responsible Down Standard (RDS), which the company contributed to in partnership with global non-profit organization Textile Exchange and accredited third-party certification body Control Union Certifications.

Hilton cuts carbon by 20% and saves $550m
Global hospitality company Hilton Worldwide has saved $550 million since 2009 through environmental management, according to the company’s latest sustainability report. Since implementing its Travel with Purpose strategy, Hilton says it has reduced energy use by 14.5 per cent, carbon output by 20.9 per cent, waste output by 27.6 per cent and water use by 14.1 per cent, compared to 2009 levels.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Plastics: breaking the mould
Plastics are high-performing, multi-application materials that have become an iconic feature of the modern industrial economy – for better, and worse. A symbol of rising living standards and domestic bliss in the 1950s, the material has gradually attracted more criticism as volumes rose and problematic waste ensued. The big question now is to know how to reconcile polymers’ undeniable functionality and a system that can work long-term, avoiding loss of material value and negative impacts…

Coles and Woolworths ban products containing plastic microbeads
Major supermarket chains and beauty product manufacturers have committed to phasing out the use of microbeads in Australia, following US legislation to ban the tiny plastic particles that damage waterways and oceans. Coles and Woolworths have promised to stop using microbeads in their own products from 2017, while global companies including Unilever, Beiersdorf​, Johnson & Johnson and The Body Shop have already commenced the phase-out. Microbeads are small pieces of plastic commonly found in facial cleansers, body scrubs and soap. They are washed into waterways where they settle into sediment.

OPINION: Finding ways to reduce your rubbish by re-using, repurposing and recycling
Why do we need to reduce our waste? It is not to save the planet. She would do just fine without us humans. Rather it is to coexist with her. The way we are sucking resources out of the ground and spewing harmful substances into the environment is leading to our ultimate demise at an ever increasing rate. The science is in; we must stop this nonsense.

Politics and Society

Looking Ahead: Four Drivers for Progress in 2016
As I flip the calendar at the start of each new year, I wonder whether all the annual round-ups and previews reflect more than arbitrary dates on a page. 2015 may well be a notable exception. It was a monumental year for sustainability… Last year may indeed be remembered as a moment when things really did change, and for the better. And yet, the promise of 2015 will only be redeemed with the kind of follow-through that will transform big visions into reality. Here are four things to look for as drivers of even greater—and more tangible—progress in 2016 and beyond.

Endangered: the police unit that protects wildlife from human cruelty
UK – A key role in detecting [wildlife] crimes is played by the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU). This small, globally admired team of specialist police officers based in the humble surroundings of the old Livingstone police station in Scotland will cease to exist in April unless the government unveils a last-minute funding package.

The great bathroom debate: paper towel or hand dryer?
It’s the age-old question that continues to baffle many of us in the bathroom: when you come to drying your hands, should you reach for the paper towel, or the electric dryer? For some, this decision might be related to hygiene, and for others, drying performance. For many, environmental concerns are also an important consideration, no doubt motivated by the fact that our daily activities contribute to the complex web of growing sustainability pressures facing the planet.

Flax bassinets saving young lives
NEW ZEALAND – Precious leaves from New Zealand’s native flax are being woven into baby bassinets to help prevent cot death. Around 60 babies pass away annually of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI), occurring in their sleep. Landcare Research’s flax collection at Lincoln University has found an additional use in the creation of bassinets, or wahakura, with the aim of turning these statistics around.

The sun goes down on Vitamin D: why I changed my mind about this celebrated supplement
Medical specialists such as myself have been promoting supplements to our patients with osteoporosis and other bone problems for decades… However, a new paper on the risks that vitamin D may pose finally has convinced me that I was wrong. My view on vitamin supplements and the multi-billion dollar industry behind them altered radically after I began researching my book, The Diet Myth, in 2013. The industry and its PR is supported by celebrities who reportedly have high-dose vitamins drip fed into their veins, and around 50% of Americans and Britons take them regularly. But surprisingly, there is a lack of evidence to support the health benefit claims of virtually all vitamin supplements on the market.

Built Environment

London takes just one week to breach annual air pollution limits
London has already breached annual pollution limits just one week into 2016, and only weeks after the government published its plans to clean up the UK’s air. At 7am on Friday, Putney High Street in West London breached annual limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a toxic gas produced by diesel vehicles that has been linked to respiratory and heart problems.  Under EU rules, sites are only allowed to breach hourly limits of 200 micrograms of NO2 per cubic metre of air 18 times in a year, but this morning Putney broke that limit for the 19th time.

Beijing to shut 2500 firms to fight pollution
Beijing will close 2500 small polluting firms this year in its latest effort to combat pollution, state news agency Xinhua reported on Saturday, citing the municipal government.


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