Sustainable Development News

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

Modern slavery explained: What is it and what can I do about it?
Slavery is not consigned to history as many people think, nor does it only involve people in the world’s poorest countries. Not only does it persist in Australia but millions of Australians could be unwittingly supporting the some forms of slavery every time they go to the shops. Modern slavery is a hidden crime and refers to situations where a person sis being exploited and cannot leave their situation because of threats, violence, deception and abuse of power.

Energy and Climate Change

Baking soda ‘sponge’ could capture carbon emissions
Scientists in California are testing sponges made with the key ingredient of baking soda as a way of capturing carbon emissions. The researchers say that soda is more effective than current methods and less damaging to the environment. The team have already successfully trialled microcapsules filled with the substance.  They believe that the baking soda approach could be 40% cheaper than existing technology.

Renewables = 99% Of New Electricity Capacity In Q1 2016 In USA
Renewable energy absolutely dominated to electricity generation capacity in the USA in Q1 2016, even more so than it did in Q1 2015. Accounting for a whopping 99.2% of new electricity generation capacity, renewables — led by solar power and wind power, which accounted for 96.4% of new capacity — look prime to have a record-breaking year.

Abbas El-Zein on the challenge of sea-level rise
University of Sydney associate professor in the School of Civil Engineering Dr Abbas El-Zein recently spoke at “Small Changes” environmental conversations, the university’s series of talks delivered in conjunction with Sydney Ideas and hosted by The Fifth Estate’s managing editor Tina Perinotto. In this abridged transcript, Dr El-Zein speaks about the complexities associated with rising sea levels and the decision-making being made at a municipal level.

Environment and Biodiversity

Peacock spiders: scientist finds seven new species of ‘fairly cute’ creatures
A scientist with a passion for peacock spiders – only a couple of millimetres long, extraordinarily colourful and “like dogs or cats” in their behaviour – has discovered seven new species. Jürgen Otto, a biologist from Sydney, has been researching the arachnids since 2005, and has gained a significant following online with his footage. He first came across one while walking in the Ku-ring-gai Chase national park, north of Sydney.

Maratus vultus, one of the new species discovered by Jürgen Otto. Photograph: Jürgen Otto

Maratus vultus, one of the new species discovered by Jürgen Otto. Photograph: Jürgen Otto

Hybrid species are on the march – with the help of humans
Species that evolved far apart have been thrown together by worldwide transport, global warming, deforestation and farming. This is increasing the rate at which plant hybrids are being produced and these new species can dramatically affect local plants, animals and ecosystems.

Malaysia establishes a 1-million-hectare marine park
Malaysia has just established the biggest marine protected area (MPA) in the country. The Tun Mustapha park (TMP) occupies 1m hectares (2.47m acres) of seascape off the northern tip of Sabah province in Borneo, a region containing the second largest concentration of coral reefs in Malaysia as well as other important habitats like mangroves, sea grass beds and productive fishing grounds.

How will the Barrier Reef recover from the death of one-third of its northern corals?
The problems caused by mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef have continued to deepen, with the latest estimates based on results from our surveys showing that 35% of corals are now dead or dying along the northern and central sections of the reef north of Townsville. We have been tracking this severe bleaching event for months, documenting the damage as abnormally high water temperatures caused the coral to bleach, losing the algae that live within their tissues and supply most of the corals’ energy.

SE Asia’s damaged peat swamps could release 8.7 gigatons of CO2
Clear-cut rainforests and homeless orangutans make for powerful images, but it’s what you don’t see — hidden just below the surface — that may be the most sinister threat from tropical development. Long after the last tree is harvested from a peat swamp, decomposition of the soil continues to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now, alarming new models show us how much is at stake, and how quickly it is being lost.

America’s Sickest Wetlands Are in the West, EPA Finds
An exhaustive assessment released by the EPA this month based on more than 1,000 wetland surveys conducted in 2011 concluded that while nearly half of the remaining wetlands in the Lower 48 are in “good” condition, just one-fifth of the wetlands in the West are doing that well. The findings portend problems nationwide as seas rise, with planners valuing the respite that coastal ecosystems can offer from floods and erosion-inducing waves. The 119-page assessment contained particularly bleak news from the West, where wetlands are the least widespread and in the sickliest condition overall nationwide.

Tigers seized from controversial Thai Buddhist temple
Wildlife authorities in Thailand have begun removing tigers from a Buddhist temple, after accusations of wildlife trafficking and animal abuse.  Three of the 137 tigers at the temple in Kanchanaburi province were moved on Monday. The 1,000-personnel operation will last all week. The monks, who deny all allegations, resisted at first but gave in when presented with a court order. The tigers are being taken to animal refuges, authorities said.

Economy and Business

Inside the toxin-free hospital of the future
USA – Last week, hundreds of changemakers from hospitals, health systems and medical products or supplier companies gathered in Dallas to learn and compare notes at the 13th CleanMed Conference. CleanMed is the nation’s largest conference focusing on health care sustainability. Every year, we connect the health care leaders working to accelerate our sector’s commitment to environmental sustainability and to spur a movement in regenerative health. These are people who have moved beyond protecting the environment and human health, to improving them. When united, the health care industry can do a lot because we are big and powerful. Health care represents a whopping 20 percent of the nation’s market. Every year, health care companies buy $300 billion worth of goods and services.

ANZCO lands award for ‘intelligent and committed’ energy savings
NEW ZEALAND – ANZCO Foods has reduced its energy use 17 per cent, saved $2.6 million a year in fuel bills and its greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of meat are now down by 14 per cent. If all meat and seafood processing companies followed ANZCO’s example, the sector would save approximately 1.5 petajoules of energy a year, the equivalent of taking around 40,000 cars off the road, the Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority says.

The Toxic Toll of Indonesia’s Battery Recyclers
KEBASEN, Indonesia —Smoke billows from the chimney of the small battery smelter, carrying particles of lead, plastic, and sulfuric acid into the air. More dense smoke pours from the open furnace into the smelter’s main room, threatening to engulf two workers as they shovel the lead cells of car batteries into the glowing fire. The gray cloud drifts over the countryside in Central Java, landing on rice fields and villages. Nearby residents complain that the haze burns their eyes, makes them dizzy, and gives them headaches. “We are upset about the smoke,” says Samsuri, 40, who lives in the farming village of Tegalwangi, about half a mile from the recycling compound, run by Lut Putra Solder. “It makes it difficult to breathe and sometimes makes us sick.”

Waste and the Circular Economy

Learning not just ‘about’, but ‘for’ a circular economy
Bill McDonough (co-founder of Cradle to Cradle Design) recently shared an intriguing story that he came across when he started working with NASA:
“So, Kennedy calls to be on the moon in 10 years. [The team in the USA made it] there in nine years. And when they looked at the average age of the team that put Neil Armstrong on the moon, it was like 28 years old. What does that mean? That means that engineers who heard Kennedy nine years earlier were just graduating high school. They didn’t know they couldn’t go to the moon, so they did.”
This story beautifully illustrates how simple it can be to change mindsets when you talk to the right people. But it also highlights the size of the task at hand when it comes to changing the mindset of a whole generation and how they think about the economy, society and the environment and the complex ways in which they interact.

Politics and Society

Regent New World customers bag rewards for reusable bag use
NEW ZEALAND – One customer’s comment to the owner at the checkout has turned into a reduction in plastic bags, and free coffee. Regent New World owner Todd Leathem says he was packing bags at the checkout when a customer noticed his name tag and suggested instead of penalising people they should reward them for doing good. Todd says the comment was in regards to New World introducing a charge for plastic bags temporarily around six years ago. On March 3 the store introduced a scheme where customers who spend $20 and shop with a reusable bag get a click on a card, once they have six clicks, they can get a free coffee from the store’s cafe. Co-owner Lillian Leathem says they have kept an eye on the number of plastic bags ordered since the scheme started. “We are averaging 10,000 bags a week less.”

Boy, 6, shares emotional plea for the environment
MOUNT VERNON, WA (KTRK) — A 6-year-old boy has taken the Internet by storm after a video showing just how distraught he was about the impact of pollution on the planet. Henry Marr apparently watched a video at school about pollution and was so upset he broke down in the car, local station KOMO reports. Marr’s mother caught his breakdown on camera and posted it on Facebook for family and friends, but then it went viral.

“Saving the Reef”: The triumph of politics over science?GBR Prof Hughes
The Great Barrier Reef is an election issue.  Labor has just promised $400 million for the Reef. The government had previously committed $170 million, but one of Australia’s leading coral researchers says that “Australia’s plan for protecting Great Barrier Reef tourism is to pretend climate change isn’t its biggest threat.”

Coalition’s transition plan: Build a new mega coal mine
AUSTRALIA – The Coalition government has restated its commitment to ensure major new coal projects like the Adani-owned Carmichael mega mine in north Queensland go ahead, to meet what it describes as soaring global demand for the fossil fuel that is inextricably linked to dangerous global warming.

Election fact check: Do green schemes drive up electricity prices?
AUSTRALIA – A comprehensive new Clean Energy Council report has highlighted how little renewable energy policies and other “green schemes” have historically contributed to Australia’s rising electricity prices, in comparison to other factors like over-investment network infrastructure. The linking of high electricity bills to climate schemes like the Renewable Energy Target and emissions trading has been a favourite weapon of the Coalition since Tony Abbott was its leader.

Labour, Greens to work to change govt
NEW ZEALAND – Labour and Green parties have announced an agreement to work together to change the government. The two parties have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) – the first time they have formalised their relationship… It’s been a long time coming for the Green Party who have held out for a formal agreement with Labour for many years.

Food Systems

How sustainable diets will future-proof the foodservice sector
Foodservice companies promoting sustainable food and diets will enjoy a greater boost to their business in the longer term, according to a recent WWF report. The report is the result of a three-year partnership between WWF-UK, the Food Ethics Council and catering company Sodexo. “Catering for Sustainability” (PDF) urges foodservice firms to pilot sustainable menus, remove unsustainably sourced ingredients and share best practices across the industry.


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