Sustainable Development News

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

National Australia Bank moving to recognise farmers’ natural capital
There are moves to factor the impact of farming on “natural capital” in to the economy and ultimately, the price of food. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) conference heard that the National Australia Bank is investigating how they can reward farmers who manage their so called natural capital, by farming sustainably. Stuart Wenn from the NAB said both farmers and consumers are looking for assurances around sustainability.

[Ed: Oh my gosh, this is so exciting, one of the big four banks in Australia looking to factor in externalities… I don’t know about you but I feel 2015 is looking like a tipping point for sustainable development. But as NAB says, it’s a journey.]

Energy and Climate Change

Hundreds of methane gas flares found off coast of Gisborne
NEW ZEALAND – A team of scientists have found around 766 individual methane gas flares within an area of seabed off the coast of Gisborne, in what has been described as a “major advance” for science and a first for New Zealand. The finding comes as the 11-member expedition ends tomorrow morning with the NIWA deepwater research vessel Tangaroa arriving back in Wellington. The team, led by marine geologist Dr Joshu Mountjoy, had been investigating the area after German and Kiwi researchers last year revealed 99 seabed gas flares there using state-of-the-art 3D and 2D seismic and echosounder technology. Following this discovery, Dr Mountjoy and his team sought to find out whether methane was getting through the water column to the ocean’s surface and into the atmosphere, and determine what contribution it was making to global greenhouse gas.

Academy of Science urges Australia to cut emissions to zero by 2050
Australia’s premier scientific institution has urged the Abbott government to embrace an  acceleration in cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, with an ultimate eye to reducing national carbon pollution to zero by mid-century. In a submission to the federal government, the Australian Academy of Science said the country should adopt an interim goal of cutting emissions by 30 to 40 per cent below 2000 levels for 2030 as part of the long-term struggle to bring emissions under control.

German solar tender puts winning bids at €0.092/kWh
German authorities have described the first round in the pilot tender as a step towards “real competition.” A total of 25 bids have been approved after 170 bids were submitted by mid-April. Two weeks after the deadline for submissions, Germany’s Federal Network Agency has granted the contracts in the first round of the ground-mounted PV tender. The agency accepted 25 bids totaling 156.97 MW of PV capacity, with the average capacity of the tendered projects at 6.3 MW at a rate of €0.0917 per kilowatt hour.

Solar ambition soars in India, Japan as both eye 100GW targets
Solar ambition continues to mount in Asia, with predictions this week that Japan could reach 100GW of installed PV by 2030, and the suggestion of reforms in India that would boost the amount of solar that utilities are required to buy.

Raise a glass to neat ideas for more eco-friendly whisky
It may have a heritage dating back centuries, but in the last five years the Scottish whisky industry has undergone something of an energy revolution. In 2009, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) launched an Industry Environmental Strategy for its membership of 101 malt and seven grain distilleries, accounting for over 90% of the industry. Alongside commitments on water reduction and packaging, it set a target of 20% energy from renewable sources by 2020 and 80% by 2050. At the time of the strategy launch, non-fossil fuel energy use in the industry  was at 3% and by 2012 it had reached 16%.  The SWA is currently crunching the latest figures, but it’s possible that the 2020 target will be met ahead of time. So, how is it making this progress?

California sets new goal to slash greenhouse gases 40 per cent by 2030
California already has some of the most stringent climate change targets of any of the US’s 50 states, but yesterday Governor Jerry Brown strengthened the state’s green goals further with a new target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent by 2030. The new target aims to ensure that the state is on track to meet its overall goal to reduce emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, against on 1990 levels, by increasing renewable energy supplies, reducing energy wastage and requiring companies to pay for their carbon pollution. “With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations, but it’s one that must be reached – for this generation and generations to come,” said Governor Brown in a statement.

Japan outlines 2030 carbon target ahead of Paris climate summit
Japan is proposing to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 26% by 2030 as its contribution to a global summit on climate change in Paris later in the year. Media reports earlier this month said the country was looking at a 25% percent cut from 2013 levels, up from an earlier target of about 20%. Japan, the world’s fifth biggest emitter of climate-warming carbon dioxide, has previously watered down emissions targets as the shutdown of its nuclear plants after the 2011 Fukushima disaster forced its utilities to burn record amounts of gas and coal to generate power.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Group representing 1m medical students backs fossil fuel divestment
The fossil fuel industry is a bigger threat to global health than tobacco and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust have a moral obligation to divest from it, an international organisation that represents 1 million medical students has said. A letter to the charities from the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) called on the charities to drop their fossil fuel company interests, which amount to almost £1.5bn. The students said investments in coal, oil and gas companies were in direct contravention of the solemn Hippocratic 0ath, which doctors take before they begin their service.

Environment and Biodiversity

Climate change risk to ‘one in 6 species’
One in six species on the planet could face extinction if nothing is done to tackle climate change, analysis suggests. If carbon emissions continue on their current path – and temperatures rise by 4 degrees – 16% of animals and plants will be lost, according to a review of evidence. The study, published in Science, shows risks are highest in South America, Australia and New Zealand. Previous estimates range from 0 to 54%. Dr Mark Urban of the University of Connecticut, US, analysed data from 131 scientific studies on the risk of extinction from climate change.

Sydney storms get more intense as engineers begin to adjust to climate change
Sydney’s rain is becoming more torrential, particularly during summer, a trend researchers say will increase with further global warming and force engineers to design resilient structures that are able to limit the flood impacts. A study of 69 rain gauges in the greater Sydney region from 1966 to 2012 found that the number of short but intense rainfall events increased, while longer-duration deluges decreased, according to research by the University of Adelaide published in Nature Climate Change on Wednesday

Indonesian government must halt road through orangutan reserve, says green prize winner
The winner of a major conservation prize has called on the Indonesian government to halt a road-building plan that threatens the last place on Earth where elephants, rhinoceros, tigers and orangutans live together. The plan for the Ladia Galaska road network has been approved by the Aceh government, but requires consent from the central minister for home affairs to go ahead. Panut Hadisiswoyo, who won a £35,000 Whitley Award on Wednesday for engaging north Sumatran communities on orangutan conservation, said the development would be a disaster for the densest remaining population of Sumatran orangutans.

How Little Seeds Shaped Human History in Big Ways (Book Talk)
Thor Hanson, author of The Triumph of Seeds was doing fieldwork in Central America when he became fascinated by the seeds of a giant rainforest tree known as the almendro. Hard as rock, impervious to hammer blows or chisels, they set him to wondering how seeds are dispersed and how they have shaped human history. Speaking from his home in Washington state, where he is a conservation biologist, he explains how grains and revolution often go hand in hand; why Ugandans throw millet over newly married couples; why seeds are the frackers’ best friends; and why the future of seeds is such a hot button issue.


The variety of rain forest seeds and seed pods can be dazzling. “For the plant, it’s an evolutionary imperative to not only make seeds but to defend and disperse them,” the author says. Photograph by Tim Laman, National Geographic

The variety of rain forest seeds and seed pods can be dazzling. “For the plant, it’s an evolutionary imperative to not only make seeds but to defend and disperse them,” the author says.
Photograph by Tim Laman, National Geographic


Economy and Business

Better budgeting with environmental accounting
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has produced national accounts data for more than 50 years and it provides consistent statistics for tracking of the health of the economy and informing decision-making including the federal Budget. But there’s a crucial piece of the puzzle missing: data on the health of our environment is not included in national accounts. And we are all poorer for it.

Earth, Inc. in Turnaround
The case for Earth, Inc.’s insolvency is clear: Earth regenerates its reserves of natural capital – cash inflow – slower than humanity draws against it, the cash outflow. A company with negative cash flow cannot cover its bills. Is our home planet a candidate for a corporate turnaround?

Banks and pension funds continue to bankroll deforestation and land grabs
Whether its food you’re putting in your mouth, or products you’re putting on your body, the probability is that half of them contain palm oil. That’s no accident, nor the result of some natural evolution in our eating habits and predilection for cosmetics. It’s because palm oil makes big profits for corporations. But it takes money to make money, and large scale investment is pushing the expansion of plantations. Take the recent example of Credit Suisse, Mitsubishi UFJ Securities and the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation, which has engineered a $400m (£260m) bond issue on behalf of Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), part of the giant Sinar Mas Group.

G20 to probe ‘carbon bubble’ risks
The G20 countries are to officially investigate the financial risks posed by the so-called ‘carbon bubble’ to fossil fuel companies and investors. Leaders are concerned at the prospect that two thirds of assets on the books of coal, oil, and gas companies may never be able to be recovered if the world agrees to limit emissions in line with keeping global average temperatures rise at no more than 2C. According to The Telegraph, the G20 has asked the Financial Stability Board in Basel to “convene a public-private inquiry into the fallout faced by the financial sector as climate rules become much stricter”.

Corporates want to save the planet – now they’ve got a plan, thanks to WWF & friends
WWF-Australia has launched a program to engage corporate giants such as Westpac, Nestle Oceania and IKEA in contributing to a zero carbon economy by mid-century, powered by 100 per cent renewable energy. The Australian launch of the “Road to Paris and Science Based Targets” initiative [today] (Friday) in Sydney will begin the conversation on how the corporate world can engage with global climate change initiatives and develop practical pathways towards zero carbon. WWF’s business engagement manager Monica Richter said the initiative was the result of an international collaboration between WWF, CDP, the UN Global Compact and the World Resources Institute. Ms Richter said the initial launch would bring together firms across sectors including property, major retailers, banking and consumer goods for a “very broad conversation” with a focus on peer-to-peer learning and information exchange

Waste and the Circular Economy

Household plastic ingested by seabirds focus of IMAS art exhibition
Toothbrushes, cigarette lighters and children’s toys found in the stomachs of seabirds have prompted artists in Hobart to create works showing the toll ocean pollution is taking on wildlife. Scientists at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) have collaborated with artists for an exhibition called Vanishing Point. They want to expose the devastating impact of plastics entering waterways and being eaten by seabirds. Biologist Heidi Auman’s work has shown her some of the worst examples of where people’s waste ends up. “Some of the things I’ve seen in albatross is just absolutely catastrophic,” she said. “I’ve taken literally handfuls of plastic out of these albatross and sometimes six lighters per bird, plastic dishwashing gloves, textas, unbroken light bulbs and just handfuls of shards of unidentified plastic.

Report: Recycling Refrigerants Can Easily Eliminate Billions of Tons of Greenhouse Gases
If only 30 percent of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) refrigerants are reclaimed for reuse by 2040, approximately 18 billion metric tons carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent would be prevented from reaching the atmosphere over the next 25 years, according to a white paper released today by EOS Climate, a company that incentivizes the complete life cycle management of harmful refrigerants — using the power of capital markets to address climate change. Recycling HFC Refrigerants Delivers Immediate, Cost-Effective Climate Protection was released during the Navigating the American Carbon World conference, a leading forum for discussing climate policy and greenhouse gas markets, which wrapped up today in Los Angeles, California.

C2C Design Challenge Winners Help Reduce Water Waste, Build Better Furniture, Reduce Obsoletism
Today, the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and Autodesk announced the winners of the inaugural Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge, which asked participants to design products made with materials that can return safely to industry or nature at the end of use, fulfilling a core criterion of “remaking the way we make things.” The design challenge celebrates the circular economy and a world filled with Cradle to Cradle Certified™ products that feature innovative material selection and design. Instead of making things to throw away, these designers are working in an economy where valuable resources are perpetually recycled. A US$2,000 cash prize has been awarded to winners in three categories: Best Student Project, Best Professional Project, and Best Use of the Autodesk Fusion 360 Tool.

Don’t Throw Out Your Dog’s Poop: It’s Now A Valuable Natural Resource
Your dog might seem like an unlikely source of renewable energy. But a new appliance is designed to take a plentiful resource your pet produces—dog poop—and convert it into electricity that can charge household gadgets. In theory, it’s a way to keep dog turds off city sidewalks by giving owners an incentive to bring the waste home. “I have three dogs,” says Geneva-based designer Océane Izard, who created “Poo Poo Power” as a conceptual design. “I have always believed in the potential of my dogs’ droppings. I’ve also lost count of the times I’ve walked in shit.” To use the appliance, dog owners place a biodegradable bag of dog waste inside, where sludge-eating bacteria belch out methane that is converted to power. The electricity is stored in detachable batteries that can be used around the house.

Politics and Society

Renewable energy target: Liberal MP Dan Tehan pushes for higher RET to end political stalemate, save jobs
AUSTRALIA – A Liberal MP is urging the Government to settle on a higher renewable energy target (RET) to prevent further job losses across the sector. Companies from the trade-exposed energy intensive industry and the clean energy sector have told 7.30 they want the major parties to settle on a final target of 33,000 gigawatt hours (GWh). The Member for Wannon, Dan Tehan, agrees and believes the Government should resolve the impasse swiftly. “[My constituents] have been saying that politics is put in front of jobs and what I have been reassuring them is that, as far as I’m concerned, what I want to see is jobs put before politics,” Mr Tehan told 7.30.

Political debate has ‘damaged’ understanding of long term health impacts of climate change: AMA (Audio)
A new National Centre for Disease Control and a new National Food and Water Commission are two of the key recommendations in a new report on climate change challenges to health. The report, by the Australian Academy of Science, is endorsed by the Australian Medical Association. AMA President Dr Brian Owler says the political debate over climate change has done ‘a lot of damage’ not only to public understanding about the science of global warming, but also to the medical profession’s response to what he calls the ‘scary’ long term health impacts.

Adapt now to prevent poor health from climate change: report
Australians will have to adapt to reduce the risk of health impacts from climate change, according to a report released today by the Australian Academy of Science. Health issues identified in the report include extreme weather events such as fires, floods, and heatwaves; increased risk of infectious diseases; problems with food supply; loss of livelihoods including farming, fishing and tourism; and conflict provoked by displacement and migration.

Amazonian tribes unite to demand Brazil stop hydroelectric dams
Four Amazonian tribes have joined forces to oppose the construction of hydroelectric dams in their territory as the Brazilian government ramps up efforts to exploit the power of rivers in the world’s biggest forest. The Munduruku, Apiaká, Kayabi and Rikbaktsa released a joint statement on Thursday demanding the halt of construction on a cascade of four dams on the Teles Pires – a tributary of the Tapajós. They say the work at the main area of concern – the São Manoel dam – threatens water quality and fish stocks. The site has already reportedly expanded almost to the edge of a nearby village, although the local communities say they have not been consulted as they obliged to be under national laws and international standards.

Built Environment

Megacity metabolism: which cities consume more than their fair share?
New York needs to go on a diet, according to a new report that analyses how resources like energy, water and waste pass through different megacity systems. Scaled on a per capita basis, the largest American city consumed more energy and water, and produced much more solid waste than any of the 27 megacities (populations greater than 10 million) studied. Tokyo and New York have comparable electricity consumption per capita, however New York fell down due to high use of transportation fuels and heating/industrial fuels. Its solid waste production was also much higher than any other country on absolute and relative terms. London and Paris, meanwhile, used relatively fewer resources, and Tokyo excelled at water conservation.

Cheap, tough and green: why aren’t more buildings made of rammed earth?
It’s fair to say that rammed earth, as a construction technique, has stood the test of time. It has been used to create buildings around the world whose beauty and robustness are still visible today, like the Alhambra in Spain and the Great Wall of China, both built more than 1,000 years ago. Traditional rammed earth is made of a mix of clay-rich soil, water and a natural stabiliser such as animal urine, animal blood, plant fibres or bitumen. It is then compacted inside temporary formworks that are removed after the mix has dried and hardened. The resulting structure can withstand compressive forces of up to 2.5 megapascals (around 10% of the average compressive strength of modern bricks).

Who will be first with a Well Building certificate in Oz?
AUSTRALIA – According to CBRE associate director Tony Armstrong, the next big green wave sweeping the commercial property world is wellness for employees. That’s great light, clean air, water, nutrition advice, lessons in healthy cooking, a thriving veggie garden and even a doctor in house if you need it. In Australia there’s a race to be the first accredited with a certificate from the International Well Building Institute. Vying for top honours in Melbourne is Medibank at its 720 Bourke Street building and Australia Post, and in Sydney there’s Macquarie Bank’s 50 Martin Place, which we’ve profiled.

Food Systems

The vegetable patches of east London are the hopes of a new generation
Amidst the housing estates and tarmac in Clapton, east London, is a patch of greenery where a small group of food growers is discussing how to make good compost – a balance between green and brown material, apparently.  The 10 people present are learning about self-sufficiency in a class run by Growing Communities, an award-winning Hackney-based organisation which started as a vegetable box scheme 20 years ago. It is now one of many projects in the capital encouraging urban food growing.


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