Sustainable Development News

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

Nature is priceless — so let’s value it
Have you ever paid more to buy something labeled “organic” because you thought it was the right thing to do for nature? Looked for a “recycled” or Forest Stewardship Council label on a paper product? Paid a fee to visit a national park? If so, you know what it’s like to express your appreciation and support for nature in monetary terms. Does that mean that you “put a price-tag on nature” — that you think nature’s worth is the extra dollar you paid for that organic avocado? Of course not. By taking these actions, you didn’t define what nature is worth in any sweeping, lasting way. But you did show that you value the Earth, its ecosystems, and the ability of those systems to give people food, shelter, recreation and so much more.

Energy and Climate Change

Coal doesn’t help the poor; it makes them poorer
A dozen international poverty and development organizations published a report last week on the impact of building new coal power plants in countries where a large percentage of the population lacks access to electricity. The report’s conclusions are strikingly counter-intuitive: on the whole, building coal power plants does little to help the poor, and often it can actually make them poorer.

Changes in Chinese poverty and coal energy deployment. Illustration: Overseas Development Institute.

Changes in Chinese poverty and coal energy deployment. Illustration: Overseas Development Institute.

The oil detox: these companies are using yeast to wean us off fossil fuels
A growing number of companies are betting that renewable chemical sources might be able to topple petrochemicals from their throne. Jean-Francois Huc, CEO of Canadian chemical company BioAmber, believes that yeast may be the key to taking some of the petrochemical market. BioAmber uses a genetically engineered yeast to produce succinic acid, a chemical building block that can be used to make a host of products, including polyurethanes, plastics, paints and polymers.

Environment and Biodiversity

How probiotics are fueling a toxin-free skincare revolution
“Close your eyes and focus on the first image that pops into your head when I say ‘nature’,” Dr Larry Weiss tells me over the phone. “Okay, now … does the image include any humans?” Weiss, the chief medical officer of skincare company AO Biome, says that he has posed this question to thousands of people, but not a single person has ever answered yes. It’s his way of illustrating how much humanity has removed itself from nature.

Brazzaville-issued mining permits dip into Congo’s flagship park
The boundaries of Odzala-Kokoua National Park contain some of the best-preserved old-growth rainforest in the Republic of Congo. Its terrain varies from hills rising to 350 meters (1,148 feet) to dense low-lying jungles to more than a hundred bais or clearings in the forest – popular hangouts for wildlife. But a rash of recent mining permits allow concessions that bleed into the park’s territory. And they have some questioning the government’s commitment to protecting the ecosystems and wildlife within its border

NZ Bird of the Year 2016: The lonely kea, forever the bridesmaid
It was supposed to be the kea’s year.  The irritating but lovable parrot had edged ahead in 2016’s Bird of the Year competition, soaring to a stunning victory after a decade of top 10 finishes, twice making the top three. But then something horrible happened. Its rival made it on to prime-time television.

Economy and Business

Study shows online consumers want environmentally friendly options
By gathering and sharing information on carbon emissions associated with their products, companies can make environmentally friendly choices easier for consumers and boost their own reputations as planet-friendly businesses. Advances in online technology provide effective and inexpensive opportunities to do this, according to a recent study conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Why aren’t environmentalists supporting a carbon tax in Washington state?
USA – I used to live in Washington state. I’m no longer registered to vote there, but if I were, I would vote “Yes” on Nov. 8 for the Washington Carbon Emission Tax and Sales Tax Reduction, also known as Initiative 732, or I-732. I-732 would make Washington the first U.S. state to have a carbon tax. The tax would be levied on refineries and utilities, who would then pass the tax on to consumers in the form of higher gasoline, electricity and natural gas prices. The tax would start at US$15 per ton of carbon dioxide in July 2017, increase to $25 after one year, then rise with inflation plus 3.5 percent in each subsequent year.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Landfills have a huge greenhouse gas problem. Here’s what we can do about it.
We take out our trash and feel lighter and cleaner. But at the landfill, the food and yard waste that trash contains is decomposing and releasing methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Landfill gas also contributes to smog, worsening health problems like asthma… Because methane typically has a much shorter life in the atmosphere than CO2 (12 years compared with 100 to 300 years for carbon dioxide), reducing methane release from landfills can help rapidly reduce climate change risk.

Ministers reject calls for charge on UK’s disposable coffee cups
Ministers have rejected calls for a charge on the 2.5bn disposable coffee cups thrown away each year because they believe coffee shop chains are already taking enough action to cut down waste. Therese Coffey told the Liberal Democrats, who have urged the government to impose a 5p charge similar to that levied on plastic bags, that industry and chains were already doing enough voluntarily.

Politics and Society

12 ways environment and development sectors can collaborate to meet the SDGs
The 2030 agenda intertwines goals for human development and environmental protection. An expert panel explains how the two sectors can work together.

Commonwealth drives strategies to put climate change into reverse
Cities that mimic forests, bricks made from converted carbon dioxide and highways lined with wind turbines powered by traffic. These are ideas that, for now, still belong to a distant, brighter future – when the world’s focus can be turned from halting runaway climate change to actually reversing it.  Yet these were among the innovations showcased in a two-day Commonwealth brainstorming session in London, attended by leading climatologists. As the world enters an ominous new era of “climate change reality,” the organisation is now seeking to inject them into the policy debate days before a potentially pivotal COP 22 summit in Marrakech from 7-18 November.

Iceland’s crowd-sourced constitution: hope for disillusioned voters everywhere
Western democracies are in turmoil. From Brexit to Donald Trump, to a general lack of trust in politics, disillusioned voters are expressing their frustration in strange ways. In Iceland, they are taking a more proactive, hopeful approach – and it’s a lesson to the rest of the world. It looks as though a crowd-sourced constitution, developed in 2012, could finally be about to make its way through parliament.  The document – the result of four months of consultation – was approved by a two-thirds majority in a national referendum but was ultimately rejected by the government of the time. It includes clauses on environmental protection, puts international human rights law and the rights of refugees and migrants front and centre, and proposes redistributing the fruits of Iceland’s natural resources – notably fishing.

Built Environment

The Commons: could co-housing offer a different kind of great Australian dream?
When Kate and Jason turned up to look around The Commons, they weren’t looking for a lifestyle change. They were just another hard-working couple wanting an apartment that was close to central Melbourne and wouldn’t cost the earth.  Only after they moved in did the upsides of the building’s co-housing ethos hit them. Built in the Brunswick neighbourhood by a consortium of local architects, the award-winning apartment block is designed with sociability hard-wired into it. About 15% of the property is devoted to communal facilities, including a shared roof garden and laundry room.

Seven simple ways to create healthy, happy neighbourhoods
A whole range of recent research shows that we could be happier and healthier if we made an effort to move more and connect with nature, if we could support each other more and if we start caring for our places and our communities. Design can help make it happen with simple solutions that trigger our human instincts in positive ways. Here are seven simple rules to help us create healthier, happier neighbourhoods.

Bringing nature back to cities is good for plants, animals and humans
The North Saskatchewan River winds through the center of Edmonton, its waters and the surrounding landscape forming a green spine that spreads a network of ravines out into nearby neighborhoods. Since 1904, when the Canadian city was incorporated, it has prioritized this river ecosystem. But the city is growing — from 600,000 people in 1990 to nearly 900,000 today — and that’s pushing development and transportation infrastructure up against this riverine system. Habitats are being reduced in size and fragmented by roads, creating many risks for the river valley’s wildlife.

Growth of city trees can cut air pollution, says report
Planting trees is a cost-effective way to tackle urban air pollution, which is a growing problem for many cities. A study by US-based The Nature Conservancy (TNC) reported than the average reduction of particulate matter near a tree was between 7% and 24%. Particulate matter (PM) is microscopic particles that become trapped in the lungs of people breathing polluted air. PM pollution could claim an estimated 6.2 million lives each year by 2050, the study suggests.

300 million children live in areas with extreme air pollution, data reveals
Three hundred million of the world’s children live in areas with extreme air pollution, where toxic fumes are more than six times international guidelines, according to new research by Unicef.  The study, using satellite data, is the first to make a global estimate of exposure and indicates that almost 90% of the world’s children – 2 billion – live in places where outdoor air pollution exceeds World Health Organisation (WHO) limits.

World’s children breathing dangerous air – in pictures
Three hundred million children live in areas with extreme air pollution, Unicef research shows. A new photo collection shows the scale of the problem in highly polluted countries in Africa and Asia.

Lagos, Nigeria. Smog covers Makoko, a fishing community mostly made up of structures on stilts. Vehicle emissions, diesel generators, burning of biomass and garbage and other environmental waste greatly affect the community’s water and air quality. Photograph: UNICEF

Lagos, Nigeria. Smog covers Makoko, a fishing community mostly made up of structures on stilts. Vehicle emissions, diesel generators, burning of biomass and garbage and other environmental waste greatly affect the community’s water and air quality. Photograph: UNICEF

Festival of lights (and gunpowder) leaves Delhi choking
Angry residents of the India’s capital Delhi are sharing images of smog a day after huge quantities of fireworks were set off to celebrate Diwali. Levels of PM10 particulates, considered hazardous to health, rose to 999 micrograms per cubic metre in the city after the fireworks, far above the safe limit of 100. Authorities had warned that Delhi was in for a polluted Diwali, due to factors like humidity and wind speed.


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