Sustainable Development News

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

Politics for the planet: why nature and wildlife need their own seats at the UN
Whether we consider wild weather, unprecedented Arctic melting and global temperatures, or the Great Barrier Reef, the global environment is generating alarming news. Predictions of multi-metre sea level rises, the collapse of marine biodiversity and food chains, and global warming far beyond 2℃ are equally concerning. Is our system of global environmental law and governance adequate to this crisis? Our short answer is “no”, but what should be done? We believe new international institutions and laws are needed, with one fundamental purpose: to give a voice to ecosystems and non-human forms of life.

Energy and Climate Change

Climate change: UK backs world-leading climate target
The UK government has set a world-leading climate change target up to the early 2030s. The Fifth Carbon Budget will cut carbon emissions by 57% by 2032 – that’s based on 1990 levels.  The announcement will help reassure investors needed to overhaul the UK’s ageing energy system.  But the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has warned the targets will be missed unless policies are improved.

UK lacks policies to meet more than half its carbon emissions cuts – report
The UK has no policies in place to meet more than half of the carbon emission cuts required by law by 2030, the government’s official advisers warned on Thursday, the same day ministers committed to the target.  The advisers also warned that the UK’s Brexit vote had thrown some EU-linked climate policies into doubt. The Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) annual progress report said emissions from electricity generation were falling fast, but that pollution from transport was rising and that action on cutting carbon emissions from homes had gone backwards.

Wildfires engulfing the west coast are fueled by climate change, experts warn
Scorching wildfires that are raging throughout the American south-west are being fueled by climate change and require new strategies from states to prevent ever-greater destruction of people’s lives and property, a group of experts have warned.

US solar market hits record high
The American solar power market is entering its most prosperous decade and is growing faster than coal and natural gas power. Solar energy market in the US has not been reliable in the past due to unpredictable federal policy, and therefore unreliable incentives to produce and install solar energy systems, but it is now taking off thanks to new federal and state policies and a favourable economy.

Can we transform the built environment by 2030?
Domestic buildings account for about $400 billion in national energy consumption with about 85 percent of the population residing in major cities.  The progression of urbanization can take one of two paths — it can place a greater demand on existing energy systems and associated infrastructure and contribute to continued unsustainable behavior, or it can encourage state and local leaders and the building community to think outside the box and develop impactful solutions that will allow for deeper reductions in energy consumption overall. Investing in energy efficiency isn’t just necessary to develop resilient communities; it also makes good business sense as it creates jobs and strengthens economic competitiveness.

Two degrees warmer: what it would look like in Wellington
NEW ZEALAND – A sobering image of Wellington’s business district under water has shed light on what the future holds for the capital if the temperature warms by just one more degree.  Government workers could paddle to the steps of the Beehive, as water would surround Parliament if sea levels rise by 1.5 metres, say researchers.  The rise is predicted to hit by the year 2100, due to rising temperatures and melting Antarctic ice sheets.

Environment and Biodiversity

Hole in the ozone layer is finally ‘healing’
The ozone hole over Antarctica is finally “healing” almost 30 years after the world banned the chemicals responsible for its creation, researchers say. According to the latest measurements, the ozone hole above the Antarctic is now smaller than it was around the year 2000, by about 4 million square kilometres.  However, renowned ozone hole expert Professor Susan Solomon, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the hole still averages about 17 million square kilometres in size.

Western Amazonian and Andean forests don’t follow the ecosystem “rules” — here’s why that’s important
For more than a decade, ecologists have worked with an established model for measuring and quantifying the growth strategies employed by trees given the environment they’re growing in. But a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that forests in the Andean and western Amazonian regions of South America break these long-understood rules.

Their specific diet of eucalyptus leaves means that koalas are vulnerable to habitat loss. Photo: Supplied

Their specific diet of eucalyptus leaves means that koalas are vulnerable to habitat loss. Photo: Supplied

Koala genome (Audio 10:52)
They sleep, eat, and sleep some more. Their capacity to sleep up to 20 hours every day is a well-known fact about koalas. So is their love of eucalyptus leaves. They eat nothing else. These two things make koalas particularly vulnerable to habitat loss, but for a long time, scientists also thought that low genetic diversity was to blame for declining populations and local extinctions of this quintessentially Australian creature. The koala genome tells a different story.

Are we heading back to the days of bulldozing New Zealand’s sand dunes?
Coastal dunes are one of the most degraded natural habitats in New Zealand. In the past, dunes were bulldozed, like in 1965 when bulldozers levelled the sand in Mount Maunganui. These days, native planting restoration projects are common, paths are diverted and dog walkers and cyclists are urged to avoid dunes to help regeneration. Some residents of a lower North Island town, however, want to lower their coastal dunes because they are too high for people to gaze at the beach.

Economy and Business

The business end of climate change
Since Paris, a growing number of major companies around the world have been showing a real commitment to playing their part in decarbonizing the economy. A new report launched today by the We Mean Business Coalition, along with CDP, shows just how significant that business contribution could be.
See also: Business could cut 60% of total emissions cuts pledged in Paris – new report

Politics and Society

Britain’s ‘Bregret’ offers timely lessons for Australian voters this weekend
Last week’s Brexit decision sent more than financial markets into a spin. Britain’s historic referendum result prompted Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation, as millions of Britons began expressing their “Bregret” at voting to leave the European Union. Echoing the International Monetary Fund’s former chief economist Ken Rogoff, who said the referendum was little more than a game of “Russian roulette for republics”, more than 3 million Brits quickly signed a petition calling for a second EU referendum.

Don’t panic, Brexit doesn’t have to spell gloom for the environment
The environmental movement has been in visible despair since last week’s leave vote. That’s not surprising: most of the UK’s environmental laws and regulations spring from the EU, and environmentalists know that they would not have been nearly so strong if the UK parliament had acted on its own. Indeed, British governments have often tried to resist the EU’s push for stronger environmental protection. Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Green Alliance were rightly vocal remain campaigners.  But now that the decision has been made, mimicking Fraser from Dad’s Army and crying that we’re all doomed is not what’s needed. On the contrary, it will merely encourage those who oppose environmental and climate policy to believe that they now have a new mandate to get rid of it.

Government commits to HFC phasedown
The federal government has announced a phase-down of HFC imports to occur from January 2018, which is estimated to reduce HFC emissions by 85 per cent by 2036, and contribute 80 millions tonnes towards Australia’s 2030 emissions reductions targets.

Utilities may push for new RET review if Coalition returned
Concern is rising that the Australia’s biggest utilities and coal generators will push for yet another review of the renewable energy target if the Coalition is returned to government on Saturday, and is presented with a “workable” majority of supporters in the Senate. The major utitilies have made it quite clear in recent months – as have numerous analysts – that meeting even the reduced RET of 33,000GWh by 2020 will be near impossible. One analysis suggests that 4,000MW of new large scale wind and solar needs to be contracted by year end. And that simply won’t happen.

Greens want commercial buildings to be net zero by 2040
AUSTRALIA – The Greens have released a buildings plan that sets a target for all commercial buildings to hit net zero by 2040. The Green Building Plan also includes the re-establishment of the Major Cities Unit, a $100 million a year CEFC fund for large-scale retrofits of mid-tier buildings, $50 million a year to help new buildings get a 6 Star Green Star rating, and $10.1 million over the forward estimates to increase the uptake of Environmental Upgrade Agreements.

No ‘clear conclusions’ on environment report
The Government’s much-vaunted report card on New Zealand’s environment has been criticised by a watchdog, who says it fails to give a clear diagnosis of the country’s health. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright said today that the Environment Aotearoa report, published last year, “stops short of drawing clear conclusions on the state of the environment”.

Built Environment

Green and cool roofs provide relief for hot cities, but should be sited carefully
In a recent study conducted by the University of Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative, we examined whether green roofs, which are covered with plants, and cool roofs, which are surfaced with reflective materials, could reduce [Urban Heat Island] effects in Chicago… We found that these roofing strategies did reduce the urban heat island effect, but their impacts were not uniform within the city. They also reduced breezes from Lake Michigan and altered regional air circulation in ways that could offset some of their cooling and air quality benefits.

4 keys to scaling up sustainable transport in cities
The world’s two-largest emitters have a lot to learn from each other — especially on transport. Transportation is already a major source of CO2 emissions in both China and the United States — at 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively. The percentage of people traveling by car is increasing in Chinese cities, rising from 15 percent to 34 percent in Beijing between 2002 and 2013, creating air pollution and fuelling climate change. It’s the reason officials and experts from the two nations came together at the recent U.S.-China Transportation Forum in Los Angeles.

Germany is building world’s biggest bicycle highway
With the rise of popularity of e-bikes, Germany is building the world’s biggest bicycle “autobahn” of 62-miles, connecting 10 cities. According to Regional Association Ruhr, the project is expected to remove 50,000 cars from the roads every day, the equivalent of 16,000 tonnes of carbon emissions.

NZ: The opportunities and barriers for sustainable housing
Prefabrication and engineered timber are the major opportunities to improve the performance of New Zealand housing, the NZ Green Building Council’s Sustainable Housing Summit has heard. Held in both Auckland and Christchurch, the summit brought together sustainability experts and property and construction industry players from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Norway.

Food Systems

Small Pacific nation makes bold plans to protect ocean life
Palau — its 250-odd islands scattered like emerald confetti upon a turquoise sea — is launching a series of initiatives designed not only to sharply reduce bycatch in the tuna fishery, but also to create a vast, 193,000-square-mile marine reserve — covering 80 percent of its waters — where fishing and undersea mining will be banned.  For a nation so small — Palau is home to just 21,000 people — it’s a bold move. And if it succeeds, this remote chain of small islands, whose government has been a regional leader in marine conservation, could claim its own sustainable brand of tuna and set an example for the rest of the Pacific.


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