Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Top Story

15 Pictures of Adaptable, Beautiful, and Misunderstood Moths
National Moth Week begins on July 18. This annual event celebrates the misunderstood but magnificent moth. During Moth Week, researchers encourage everyday citizens to go out at night and look at moths. This, organizers hope, will boost acceptance for insects that are otherwise unwelcome around homes, backyard gatherings, and anywhere wool coats are found. Moths are among the most diverse creatures on Earth, with more than 150,000 species. And they boast a complexity in coloring that rivals the best of the butterflies.

Fuzzy Jewel This tropical jewel moth, Acraga coa, is found mostly in Central America. Jewel moths undergo a spectacular transformation: From translucent larvae covered in protective goo to a vibrant fuzzy flier.

Fuzzy Jewel This tropical jewel moth, Acraga coa, is found mostly in Central America. Jewel moths undergo a spectacular transformation: From translucent larvae covered in protective goo to a vibrant fuzzy flier.
Photograph by Mark Moffett, Minden/National Geographic

Energy and Climate Change

Hotter, wetter, stormier: study finds 2014’s climate melted records
Global sea levels swelled to a high, tropical cyclones continued to multiply and the world’s thermometer set a record in 2014, according to a new report tracking the earth’s climate. The report, an “annual physical” for the world’s climate, found evidence of warming around the globe, from shrinking glaciers and Arctic sea ice to record levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The compendium of data from 413 researchers in 58 countries was released Thursday by the American Meteorological Society. The numbers are likely to be seized on by politicians and environmental groups seeking curbs on global warming emissions. The United Nations is trying to broker a deal this year among 190 countries to restrict greenhouse gas pollution.

Hottest June on record keeps world on track for hottest year
Last month was the hottest June on record worldwide by a wide margin, Japan Meteorological Agency said, increasing the likelihood that 2015 will also be the warmest. Global surface temperatures were 0.41 degrees above the 1981-2010 average in June, the largest such anomaly in records going back to 1891, according to preliminary data from the state agency.

Mike’s Minute: Jack Tame on the climate tipping point (Video 3:02)
NEW ZEALAND – [Ed: Jack’s been filling in for Mike Hosking for the last couple of weeks.  Here are his final thoughts.] Jack Tame says mankind is responsible for changing the climate of the world, and the tipping point is now.

Australia tops the world for climate change denial: study
Nearly one in five Australians do not believe in climate change, making the country the worst in the world for climate sceptics, a study of almost 20,000 people has found. The research by the University of Tasmania found 17 per cent of Australians thought climate change was not real, compared with 15 per cent of people in Norway, 13 per cent of New Zealanders and 12 per cent of Americans. The study, published in the journal Global Environmental Change, was based on data collected as part of the International Social Survey Programme in 2010 and 2011.

Climate change reduction target ‘inadequate’
The greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for the 2020s the Government intends to pledge has been rated inadequate by Climate Action Tracker, and as falling short of a fair share of the international effort required. Climate Action Tracker is a grouping of four independent European research organisations: Climate Analytics, Ecofys, New Climate Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. It has been rating the commitments being tabled for the Paris conference in December intended to thrash out a comprehensive agreement to curb emissions between 2020 and 2030.

EU Proposes Plan to Help Consumers Choose Energy-Efficient Products
The European Commission on Thursday proposed a revision to its energy efficiency labeling laws to “ensure coherence and continuity and makes sure that customers are able to make better informed choices that will help them save energy and money.” To provide consumers with a clearer indication of the energy efficiency of products, which are currently classified in different scales, and to improve compliance for producers and retailers, the Commission is calling for a revised energy labeling system

What clean power is really doing to British energy bills
UK – Energy bills are back in the news, with the Office of Budget Responsibility calculating new figures for the cost of low carbon power, the Competition and Markets Authority investigating energy companies, and both IPPR and Policy Exchange releasing reports in the past few weeks. With so much to debate, and a lot of seemingly conflicting numbers to grasp, here are five things you should know

Ergon seeks 200MW of big solar, accelerates push into storage
AUSTRALI A – Ergon Energy, the operator of Queensland’s regional electricity network, is about to tender for up to 200MW of large-scale solar capacity, and is also looking to accelerate its push into battery storage and electric vehicles as part of its plans to transform the country’s biggest grid. The move by Ergon Energy is the biggest tender for large-scale solar seen in Australia (the country only has 200MW of large-scale capacity built or under construction). It also underlines how the technology – with the help of falling technology costs, some preferential financing support and some political jawboning – is about to take off in Australia, in large arrays and not just on rooftops.

In the U.K., Community Renewable Energy Pushes for More Power
Joe Nixon remembers when the hopeful, festival atmosphere of the anti-fracking demonstrations two summers ago in Balcombe disappeared. Riot police surrounded the oil drilling site 30 miles south of London to fend off protesters. “I thought the police were supposed to be on our side, daddy,” Nixon’s daughter remarked. After drilling one exploratory well in 2013, the energy company, Cuadrilla Resources, stopped the project. It was a victory for Nixon and the others. And a larger accomplishment came later, when a new source of energy popped up in Balcombe. Sixty-nine solar panels now crown a local barn rooftop. It’s the first step by Nixon and his neighbors to turn the village to 100 percent renewable energy, and to go from protesting one type of power to generating another.

Can this wood-burning stove save the world?
A new stove, by a Brooklyn startup with grand ambitions, is powered by wood or cow dung or whatever other combustible material you happen to have lying around. It generates an almost smokeless, gas-like flame – and also enough electricity to light a room or charge your phone. BioLite is a company that began as a side project of two men at the design-consulting firm Smart Design. Seeking to build a camping stove that didn’t require fuel, Alec Drummond and Jonathan Cedar came up with a design that uses a fan powered by the heat of burning wood to blow air onto that wood and get it to burn much more efficiently.

Environment and Biodiversity

Polar bears fail to adapt to lack of food in warmer Arctic
Polar bears are unable to adapt their behaviour to cope with the food losses associated with warmer summers in the Arctic.  Scientists had believed that the animals would enter a type of ‘walking hibernation’ when deprived of prey. But new research says that that bears simply starve in hotter conditions when food is scarce. The authors say that the implications for the survival of the species in a warmer world are grim. Back in 2008 polar bears were listed as a threatened species in the US. At that time, the Secretary of the Interior noted that the dramatic decline in sea ice was the greatest threat the bears faced.

Spot the snow leopard in this picture or you’re dead meat
Can you spot the leopard? Or is it leopards? The snow leopard likes to take its prey by surprise, preferably an ambush from above, before dispatching it, usually rather promptly. Hence the need for camouflage. It’s all part of the game of survival. It’s also part of the challenge if you are a wildlife photographer like Inger Vandyke from Cairns.

Federal Govt data gives credibility to calls to end logging in native forests
AUSTRALIA – Official data on the Federal Government’s own carbon accounting model have given new credibility to calls to end logging in Australia’s native forests. The new research adds weight to the theory that if logging were shut down, Australia could dramatically cut its greenhouse gas pollution, and earn several billion dollars in carbon credits. The numbers have been hotly contested for years.

How healthy is your river? Ask a waterbug
In 2003, something seemed to be going wrong with the streams around Melbourne. After seven years of below-average rainfall, the aquatic macroinvertebrates – waterbugs – were telling us that something was changing.  In a small number of streams that had been sampled every year, the community of waterbugs seemed to be moving towards dominance by species normally associated with severe environmental impacts. That was when I became involved. Using an expanded data set and statistical analyses, I demonstrated a widespread decline in ecological condition of Melbourne streams as the Millennium drought really began to bite.

The big butterfly count 2015 – in pictures
UK – The world’s biggest butterfly count begins on Friday, with a resurgent garden favourite, the small tortoiseshell, likely to top the charts. The population of the butterfly, whose caterpillars feed on nettles, has slumped by 78% since the 1970s but Butterfly Conservation has revealed its spectacular recovery in recent summers: there were six times as many small tortoiseshells recorded in 2014 than in 2012

Economy and Business

Consumers Aren’t Reading CSR Reports – Here’s What You Can Do About It
Although 82 percent of Americans expect companies to report on the progress of their social and environmental efforts, only 17 percent say they have read a CSR report in the past 12 months, according to the recently released 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study. And who can blame them? Reports tend to be so dull, it’s even a challenge to get them read internally. This illustrates a need for companies to be more creative with the ways they inform and engage consumers and other stakeholders of their progress against goals.

The food sector braces itself for crackdown on modern-day slavery
Large businesses across multiple sectors are about to be required to publish a statement on what, if any, anti-slavery and human trafficking precautions they have in place. In October, supply chain regulations in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 will come into effect, and many companies will be required to issue this statement annually, including a prominent link on their website homepage. Any lack of action will reflect poorly on the company and brand. Now is the time for business leaders to ensure that their company has active policies in this area to guard against forced or compulsory labour at any point in their supply chain.

Costa serves up plan for ‘zero-energy’ coffee roastery
Costa Coffee has announced plans to build a new £36m eco-friendly coffee bean roastery to cope with growing UK demand.  The roastery, to be built in Basildon, is designed to achieve BREEAM ‘outstanding’ accreditation, while the fabric of the building itself is intended to be zero-energy. The facility will feature solar PV roof-panels, generating approximately 250kW, and a rainwater harvesting system for recycling and re-using water.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Trending: Combating Food Waste with Coffee-Based Biofuel, Edible Plates
British coffee drinkers can now support biofuel production on their morning commutes. Network Rail, the company owning and operating Britain’s stations announced a partnership Tuesday with bio-bean, a company recycling waste coffee grounds into carbon-neutral fuel. Following a successful trial at London’s Victoria and Waterloo stations, the scheme will be introduced at Network Rail’s six largest stations, which generate nearly 700 tons of coffee waste annually.  Instead of sending the grounds to landfill, generating roughly 5,000 tons of carbon emissions, the waste will now produce over 650 tons of biofuel — enough to power 1,000 homes a year.

Greens criticise ‘half measure’ on plastic bags
NEW ZEALAND – A new scheme to recycle soft plastic bags is positive but doesn’t do enough to prevent plastic pollution, the Greens say. The Government-funded initiative would see drop-off points established at shops and supermarkets, and a new recycling plant in Auckland with capacity to recycle a range of soft plastics including shopping bags, bread bags, frozen food bags and food wrap.

Twitter list: top circular economy accounts to follow
In no particular order, these are the tweeters we think can help you better understand the circular economy. Add your own suggestions in the comments section.

Politics and Society

Too much information: how a data deluge leaves us struggling to make up our minds
We make a huge number of decisions every day. When it comes to eating, for example, we make 200 more decisions than we’re consciously aware of every day. How is this possible? Because, as Daniel Kahneman has explained, while we’d like to think our decisions are rational, in fact many are driven by gut feel and intuition. The ability to reach a decision based on what we know and what we expect is an inherently human characteristic. The problem we face now is that we have too many decisions to make every day, leading to decision fatigue – we find the act of making our own decisions exhausting. Even more so than simply deliberate different options or being told by others what to do. Why not allow technology to ease the burden of decision making?

Dutch climate change campaigner Marjan Minnesma in Australia to explain how she forced her government to lift its climate action targets
Just under a month ago, Marjan Minnesma  stood weeping with joy in a Dutch courtroom, as three judges handed her and nearly 900 co-plaintiffs a resounding victory in their battle to force the Netherlands government to adopt more stringent climate action targets. Now she is in Australia with a simple message: the courts might be able to deliver citizens what intransigent politics cannot. Her legal victory is garnering interest around the globe, with “a wide variety of people in Australia contacting me for help”, she says

How a Young Girl Escaped the Prison That Is North Korea (Book Talk)
North Korea is the most secretive and repressive state on earth, a dystopian nightmare that makes George Orwell’s 1984 seem benign. News rarely leaks out. Censorship is total. But in  A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape From North Korea, Eunsun Kim gives us a rare glimpse into everyday life behind the “Bamboo Curtain.”

Scrapping zero-carbon homes is senseless policy vandalism
You may have missed it among all the talk of minimum wages and welfare cuts, but as part of its summer budget announcements the UK government also abolished the requirement for new homes to be “zero carbon” from April 2016. A commitment in place since 2006 and supported through successive governments, now thrown into a bonfire of supposed “red tape” holding back new building projects and the productivity of the UK economy. It’s an appalling act of policy vandalism.

Built Environment

Barriers, canals and fake islands: how we can save cities from rising sea levels
Extreme storms and rising sea levels will threaten the existence of coastal cities worldwide, unless preventative action is undertaken. With population growth and sea-level rise set to continue, research has estimated that by 2050, we can expect more than US$1 trillion worth of damages per year to be incurred by 136 of the world’s largest cities, if there is no attempt to adapt.

Residents flee from waters edge as coastal erosion sets in at Cooks Beach
NEW ZEALAND – Ellett’s situation is an example of a previous lack of understanding of the risks of coastal developments, said Dr Scott Stephens, a coastal scientist for Niwa. “Before we even start talking about climate change, we have problems at the coast which we’ve created. We built in places where we didn’t necessarily understand the science behind coastal processes,” Stephens said. Historically, coastal settlements such as Pauanui bulldozed dunes to improve sea views and make way for developments, a Waikato Regional Council report on dunes around the region revealed.

‘Massive leap’ wins engineering award
An Edinburgh company has won the UK’s top engineering prize for its digital hydraulic power system. The MacRobert Award judges said Artemis Intelligent Power’s “digital displacement” system was a “technical advance of global importance”. The technology could increase the power of offshore wind turbines and cut fuel consumption and carbon emissions in commuter trains and buses. The award judges called it “a massive leap forward”.

This Wristband Will Tell You Which Chemicals You’re Exposed To Every Day
We tend to blame bad genes for breast cancer and Alzheimer’s, but few diseases are purely genetic. The “exposome”—all the things we’re exposed to throughout our lives—often plays a bigger role than DNA. That includes the obvious, like diet and exercise, but also factors that are harder to track, like the chemicals that surround us. A new wearable called MyExposome is designed to reveal which chemicals are actually part of your everyday life. Strap on the wristband for a week, and it absorbs chemicals—from pesticides to flame retardants—along with you. At the end of the week, you mail it back to a lab to learn about the invisible part of your world.

Food Systems

UK government gags advisers in bees and pesticides row
The government has gagged its own pesticide advisers, after they refused to back an application by the National Farmers Union to lift a ban on bee-harming chemicals. The gag is intended to prevent campaigners lobbying ministers on the issue, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Neonicotinoids, the world’s most widely used insecticide, were banned in the European Union in 2013. Substantial scientific evidence indicates that the nerve agents cause serious harm to bees, whose pollination is vital for many crops. The National Farmers Union says oil seed rape is becoming impossible to grow without the pesticides and applied for an emergency lifting of the ban on two neonicotinoids.

McDonald’s rejects cage eggs
McDonald’s New Zealand has announced its restaurants will now longer use eggs from caged hens as of December 2016. The country’s largest fast-food retailer stopped using cage eggs in its Christchurch and Dunedin restaurants in 2012, but animal advocacy group SAFE claims the latest move as a victory for animals, after it applied years of pressure to the company. McDonald’s has also committed to not accepting eggs from the recently introduced and controversial colony cages.


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