Sustainable Development News

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

Paris Climate Treaty: ‘Significant step’ as US and China agree to sign
The US and China have issued a joint statement confirming that both countries will sign the Paris Climate Agreement next month. Both say they will take all the “domestic steps” necessary to join the agreement as soon as possible.  They are encouraging other countries to sign the document at UN headquarters in April. At least 55 countries representing 55% of emissions have to sign to bring it into force.

Energy and Climate Change

What does the science really say about sea-level rise?
A recent high-profile study led by US climatologist James Hansen has warned that sea levels could rise by several metres by the end of this century. How realistic is this scenario? We can certainly say that sea levels are rising at an accelerating rate, after several millennia of relative stability. The question is how far and how fast they will go, compared with Earth’s previous history of major sea-level changes. Seas have already risen by more than 20 cm since 1880, affecting coastal environments around the world. Since 1993, sea level has been rising faster still (see chapter 3 here), at about 3 mm per year (30 cm per century).

Rapid decline of coal use leads to drop in UK emissions
Plummeting coal use in 2015 led to a fall of 4% in the UK’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, according to government energy statistics published on Thursday. Coal is now burning at its lowest level in at least 150 years.

When will rooftop solar be cheaper than the grid? Here’s a map
USA – The National Renewable Energy Laboratory this week said that rooftop solar panels have the potential to generate nearly 40 percent of electricity in the U.S. But what about the cost of going solar? Many people ask when the cost of producing power from solar photovoltaic (PV) panels will be equal to or less than buying from the grid – a point called “grid parity” that could accelerate solar adoption. But in asking the question, they often compare apples to oranges and forget that the answer varies from place to place and from one type of installation to another.

Philippines developing largest solar project in Southeast Asia
The Philippines has commissioned the largest solar power project in Southeast Asia and is becoming a key solar energy market in the region. Two solar projects with a total capacity of 185 megawatts were commissioned in the country earlier in March including a 135 MW project at Cadiz.

Environment and Biodiversity

Birds expected to adapt well to climate change show ‘substantial advantage’
Birds that were expected to do well due to climate change have outperformed other species in the past 30 years, a study of wildlife in Europe and the US has found. Scientists said they have shown that common bird populations thousands of miles apart are responding to changing weather in a similar, pronounced way.

EcoCheck: Australia’s Wet Tropics are worth billions, if we can keep out the invading ants
The largest area of tropical rainforest in Australia – the so-called Wet Tropics – is a narrow strip along the northeast coast of the continent, totalling about 2 million hectares. It represents just 0.26% of the continent, but is crammed with hugely diverse landscapes: rainforests, sclerophyll forests, mangrove forests and shrublands, as well as areas of intensive agriculture and expanding urban rural population centres.

Snowpack 97% of Average in California’s Northern Sierra
California’s five-year drought isn’t over yet, but the state’s snowpack now stands at 97 percent of its historical average, according to a measurement taken today in the Sierra Nevada. A year ago, Governor Jerry Brown stood at the same monitoring point and didn’t see a single snowflake. The snowpack was just 5 percent of average then, the lowest ever recorded, prompting him to declare a statewide emergency and order urban areas to slash water use by 25 percent.

Sam Judd: Don’t panic, go organic
NEW ZEALAND – We spend countless hours motivating people to look after our freshwater and coastlines.  First of all, we have to create connections to nature and establish love for it. If people lack a connection to nature, it is impossible to inspire them to look after it. This was a key factor in our decision to coordinate a massive coastal clean-up in the Manukau Harbour recently to celebrate Seaweek – where 1,557 volunteers removed over 77,000 litres (nearly two and a half shipping containers) of rubbish from the coast, in collaboration with the Watercare Harbour Clean-up Trust, 19 schools, several marae, students from AUT University, staff from Westpac, Phoenix Organics, Aurecon and many local community organisations.

Economy and Business

Supply Chain Traceability Key to Fulfilling Sustainability Promises
Consumers these days want to know that when a business says that it is producing something ethically and sustainably, that it can back up such claims throughout its entire supply chain. After all, a business’s claims to operating sustainably are only partly fulfilled when it can’t confirm the sustainability of its raw materials or other products involved in production. So customers increasingly expect businesses to make sure their supply chain is as committed as they are to principled behaviour.

India seeks $500m loan for solar projects
India hopes to receive one of the first loans issued by the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) later this year, as it looks to raise $500m for solar power projects from the newly created lender, Indian officials said. Funding for clean energy projects would allay fears of environmental lobbyists that the bank’s relaxed lending criteria could promote dirty fuels like coal in developing economies, like India, that are in a hurry to ramp up energy output.

Electric cars will be cheaper than conventional cars by 2022, new report predicts
A new report, produced by analysts from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), has predicted that electric cars (EVs) will be cheaper to own that conventional cars by 2022 and that they will represent a little under 40% of all vehicle sales by 2040.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The Ghanaian turning thousands of discarded plastic bottles into art
The brightly coloured plastic jugs once played a vital role transporting water during Ghana’s droughts. Now, they’re creating a new environmental catastrophe of their own. Seas of discarded yellow, blue and white containers – referred to locally as “Kufuor gallons” after the water crises endured under president John Kufuor in the early 2000s – have become a troubling part of Ghana’s landscape.

Serge Attukwei Clottey uses his art installations to educate local communities about pollution and waste. Photograph: Serge Attukwei Clottey

Serge Attukwei Clottey uses his art installations to educate local communities about pollution and waste. Photograph: Serge Attukwei Clottey

FIRST LEGO Robotics Competition Challenges Kids to Solve the World’s Waste Problem
The 2016 FIRST® LEGO® League Arabia Open, the largest regional robotics competition in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, took place this past weekend at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. More than 50 teams of children from eight Arab countries competed in this year’s ‘TRASH TREK Challenge,’ working to find solutions to the world’s waste problem. The TRASH TREK Challenge asks teams from all over the world to explore the hidden but fascinating world of trash, from collection, to sorting, to smart production, and reuse.

Politics and Society

Ex-coal chief tells Future Fund’s Costello: the coal boom is over
AUSTRALIA – Ian Dunlop, the former chair of the Australian Coal Association and CEO of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, said reports that the Future Fund was considering financing of Adani’s controversial coal mining project in the Galilee Basin suggested its chairman Peter Costello has “lost the plot.”

Queensland tackles Turnbull over dumping of renewable energy grants
AUSTRALIA – The Queensland Labor government says it plans to tackle the Turnbull Coalition government over plans to remove grant funding for large scale renewable energy investments, saying it threatens to hold back the nascent large scale solar sector in the state. Energy minister Mark Bailey says premier Annastacia Palaszczuk intends to raise the issue at the COAG meeting on Friday, and says that large scale solar projects will come to a halt once the grant funding is removed.

George Monbiot and Ed Miliband discuss climate change (Audio 44:10)
UK – After the failures of Copenhagen in 2009, the Paris summit has been hailed as a success, with the 180 attending countries agreeing to limit global warming to 1.5c. However, the pledges still amount to the acceptance of 2.7c of warming. Joining Helen Czersk at a Guardian Live event in London are Guardian columnist George Monbiot and former Labour leader and climate change secretary Ed Miliband.

Built Environment

Any exposure of particulate matter air pollution harmful, researchers warn
Researchers have reached the grim conclusion that any type of particulate matter (PM) air pollution is detrimental to human health. The results came from Australia’s largest ever review into the health impact of tiny air pollution particles from motor vehicles, mining and coal-fired power plants.

Huge cruise ships will worsen London air pollution, campaigners warn
Toxic fumes from large cruise liners powered by giant diesel engines will worsen London’s air pollution and could prevent the city from meeting its EU legal limits on deadly nitrogen oxide emissions, says resident groups opposing a new terminal. Plans for a wharf in the Thames that would be able to handle 240 metre-long cruise liners carrying up to 1,800 passengers and 600 crew were approved by Greenwich council last July but are being challenged in the high court by residents.

Mexico City issues ban on cars
The Mexico City government has ordered all cars to stay off the city’s roads for one day a week in response the capital’s severe air-quality crisis.

Ten cities setting the bar on climate disclosure
When you work for an organization that operates on an annual cycle, there are certain events you look forward to each year.  For me, one of those events is the annual tally of which cities are leading the way on climate change reporting.  I am delighted that we can now share the results of this work. Every year CDP singles out ten city governments excelling at reporting on climate change.  We provide these cities with an InFocus report, which catalogues the city’s climate change achievements in a formal, bound booklet.

Compact and connected cities are better for people and the environment
The argument has been proven, the data is clear: compact and connected cities are better for people and the environment. Importantly, compact and connected cities are also good for the economy. According to a report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, urban sprawl costs the US economy over $1 trillion dollars per year.

Houses will be ‘red-zoned’ due to climate change
NEW ZEALAND – Climate change is coming, and with it communities may have to be abandoned or left to deal with major financial costs. Environment Commissioner Jan Wright said the country would face some “big social issues” because of climate change, identified in a report presented to the local government and environment select committee. She urged central and local government to improve their planning and have national guidelines.

Food Systems

Five foods that used to be bad for you … but now aren’t
Nutritional guidelines and recommendations are constantly changing in the light of new research. It can be difficult to keep up with which foods are healthy and which aren’t. Here we look at five foods that have gone through the cycle of being the villains of nutritional science but are now, based on some old and some new science, apparently okay to eat again.

Report Reveals 67% of Cans Contain BPA; Campbell Soup, Del Monte to Switch Packaging
A report released today by six non-profit organizations found that 67 percent of nearly 200 tested food can linings contained Bisphenol A (BPA). The report also identified the replacement materials and to what extent their safety has been studied. Ahead of the report’s release, both Campbell Soup Co. and Del Monte Foods announced plans to switch to BPA-free packaging.

Environmental champions win inaugural Auckland Farm Environment Award
NEW ZEALAND – Richard and Dianne Kidd have been named as supreme winners of the inaugural Auckland Farm Environment Awards. The Helensville couple’s 376 hectare sheep, beef and forestry farm was described by  judges as “a show piece farm on the edge of Auckland city”. They described the Kidds as  “environmental champions” and great role models for drystock farming, achieving an impressive stock and financial performance while working hand in hand with the environment.


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