Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Paris 2015: COP21

Eyes down: how setting our sights on soil could help save the climate
The world’s soils could be a key ally in the fight to limit global warming to 2℃, thanks to their ability to store carbon and keep greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. France’s agriculture minister Stéphane Le Foll has founded an ambitious international research program, called “4 pour mille” (“4 per 1000”), which aims to boost the amount of carbon-containing organic matter in the world’s soils by 0.4% each year. The program was launched officially today at the United Nations climate summit in Paris, with the hope to sign up as many nations as possible.

New ‘vulnerable nations’ bloc looks set to redraw the climate politics map
Vulnerable states have featured prominently on the first day of Paris Climate talks. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon unveiled a new initiative to strengthen the resilience of the most vulnerable people and countries to the effects of climate change. But it is the emergence of a bloc of 44 vulnerable countries calling for much stronger climate action that may be the real game-changer in international climate politics. While the so-called North-South divide has long characterised international climate deliberations, there are signs it may be on its last legs in that forum. And that’s a good thing.

India unveils global solar alliance of 120 countries at Paris climate summit
India’s prime minister has launched an international solar alliance of over 120 countries with the French president, François Hollande, at the Paris COP21 climate summit.  Narendra Modi told a press conference that as fossil fuels put the planet in peril, hopes for future prosperity in the developing world now rest on bold initiatives. “Solar technology is evolving, costs are coming down and grid connectivity is improving,” he said. “The dream of universal access to clean energy is becoming more real. This will be the foundation of the new economy of the new century.” Modi described the solar alliance as “the sunrise of new hope, not just for clean energy but for villages and homes still in darkness, for mornings and evening filled with a clear view of the glory of the sun”.

World leaders discuss carbon pricing as Paris climate talks begin
As the talks continue in Paris, a number of world leaders have pressed other nations to follow their lead and embrace a tax on carbon. Carbon pricing wasn’t expected to be high on the agenda, but the leaders of six countries used the opportunity to urge the wider adoption of a price on carbon emissions. And they were backed by the heads of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

UN climate conference 2015: The hard grind of negotiations begins as leaders depart Paris (Summary of Day 1)
Tens of thousands of delegates have started turning their mind to the hard grind of the Paris climate negotiations, with divisions between rich nations and major developing countries – in particular India – over who should bear responsibility for global warming chief among the issues to be navigated. The majority of leaders from 150 countries flew out of the French capital after an extraordinary day at the summit when prime ministers, presidents and head of states set down markers for action on climate change.

Barack Obama: parts of Paris climate deal must carry legal force
Barack Obama declared on Tuesday that some components to a global climate change agreement must carry legal force, easing one obstacle to a successful outcome at negotiations in Paris. In an apparent compromise, Obama said the US would push for certain aspects of a climate change agreement to be legally binding – going some distance to meeting a key demand of the European Union and some developing countries.  However, Obama offered no change in the US position on the overall nature of the agreement sought at Paris.

Paris, COP21: Turnbull ducks and weaves as world leaders lead (Summary of Day 1)
As 150 country leaders spoke in Paris on Monday, mostly reinforcing their commitment to a global agreement that aims to limit global warming to a maximum 2°C, Australia prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was forced to duck and weave his way through the first day of talks. The country leaders were invited to Paris to try to remove roadblocks and inspire others to act. Most – including the leaders of the US, China, Mexico,  host France and other EU countries, developing nations, and even Russia – did exactly that.


Australia is set to ratify the second part of Kyoto Protocol – but it’s not a done deal
Presently, 54 countries have submitted their instruments of acceptance to the second commitment phase of the Kyoto Protocol. To enter into force however, three quarters of the nations to the Protocol will have to submit, which means 144 nations out of 192. Australia’s pledge to ratify the second phase may encourage other countries to do the same. Alternatively, Australia’s low 2020 target, which some say is out-of-step with the rest of the world and the science of climate change, may simply further frustrate some developing countries.

John Key commits $20 million to help reduce agriculture emissions
Prime Minister John Key has committed $20 million to find a fix for farmers to reduce emissions from agriculture. Key is in Paris at the UN Climate Change Conference and acknowledged that half of New Zealand’s emissions are from agriculture “where there are not yet cost effective ways of reducing emissions”. The $20m over four years is in addition to the initial $45m investment that will go specifically to the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases.

NZ to commit up to $200m on climate change
New Zealand will commit up to $200 million to support countries’ climate change efforts – and $20 million toward ground-breaking research to slash agricultural greenhouse gases. Prime Minister John Key announced the new funding at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP21), where close to 200 nations are meeting to thrash out a new agreement to tackle global emissions. Mr Key told delegates New Zealand would provide up to $200 million for climate-related support over the next four years, the majority of which will benefit Pacific nations.

NZ wins first ‘Fossil’ award at Paris talks
John Key’s address to the UN Paris Climate Talks, along with our weak emissions targets has won New Zealand the Fossil of the Day Award, the first to be given at the talks. Fossil of the Day is an award given by Climate Action Network International, a global coalition of environmental NGOs.

Paris climate summit: Survey reveals ‘greenwash’ of corporate sponsors
A survey of 10 sponsors of the Paris climate summit has found that most do not publish data on their CO2 emissions, half don’t track their lifetime carbon footprint, and only one is reducing its emissions in line with the EU’s targets.

Energy and Climate Change

Paris talks make the climate clock tick loudly but it never stops
The climate clock may tick loudly when world leaders turn their gaze in its direction, but it never stops. This series of articles about what’s happening in our warming world, which has seen attention to the issue come and go as the time for meaningful action to avert uncontrollable climate change slips away, now has one year to go.

How renewables can kick industry’s gas habit: 1 report and 3 case studies
AUSTRALIA – A new ARENA-backed report has outlined the increasing number of renewable energy alternatives available to Australia’s small to medium industrial sector, to help cut its ties with an increasingly costly and uncertain domestic gas market. The report – a summary of analysis by IT Power in conjunction with Pitt&Sherry and the Institute for Sustainable Futures – outlines a range of opportunities for reducing industrial gas usage with renewable energy solutions that are economic, or close to economic, across all mass markets, as well as some large user industry sectors.

How a little envy is causing households to cut energy use
The biggest motivator for getting households to reduce energy consumption isn’t cost, the environment or good citizenship – it’s competing with the neighbours. So says Adam Welsch, the Singapore-based head of regulatory affairs Asia-Pacific for utility software provider Opower, who predicts that Australian households will see significant energy savings as customer engagement software infiltrates our homes.

Climate of Hope: Q&A with Professor Ralph Sims
NEW ZEALAND – With the UN climate talks now underway in Paris, the Herald’s science reporter Jamie Morton is talking to a range of experts on climate-related issues. Here he talks to Massey University’s Professor Ralph Sims – a former lead report author with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and a former senior analyst with the International Energy Agency (IEA) – about how New Zealand might slash emissions in its energy and transport sectors.

Climate of Hope: Q&A with Dr Jan Wright
NEW ZEALAND – Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, [talks] about a newly-released report which outlined New Zealand’s vulnerability to sea level rise… The intent was to increase understanding of how sea level rise will affect New Zealand, with a particular focus on the impacts on our coastal towns and cities. For the first time low lying areas around the country are accurately mapped in a standardised way. This illustrates areas vulnerable to sea level rise. Another purpose was to examine current efforts by central and local government to prepare for sea level rise. The report identifies problems with, and gaps in, the direction and guidance provided by central government.

Environment and Biodiversity

Indonesia forest fires: how the year’s worst environmental disaster unfolded – interactive
We assess the impact of the widespread forest fires in Indonesia. Set to clear land for paper and palm oil production, the fires have not only destroyed forest and peatland, but also severely affected public health and released massive amounts of carbon.

When I’m sixty-four: world’s oldest tracked bird returns to refuge with mate
The world’s oldest living tracked bird has returned to US soil to lay an egg at the sprightly age of 64. Wisdom, a Laysan albatross, was spotted at the Midway Atoll national wildlife refuge with a mate, following a year’s absence. It’s expected that Wisdom will use the world’s largest nesting albatross colony, located north-west of Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean, to raise another chick. The new arrival complements an impressive brood; researchers estimate that Wisdom has raised as many as 36 chicks in her lifetime. Wisdom was first tagged with a band in 1956. Given that Laysan albatross do not return to breed until they are at least five years old, it’s estimated that Wisdom is 64 years old, although she could be older.

Worries over water in New Zealand
Dirty water. There’s a lot of it about, despite a growing clamour to clean it up. According to the Auckland Council’s latest State of the Environment report, 54% of the 100 or so streams and rivers it monitors are in a poor or degraded state. Most of the streams in trouble are in urban catchments, where they are affected by inputs of metals, other contaminants and sediment.

Zoologist turns to crowdfunding for pygmy crocodile research
A zoologist has turned to crowd funding to help pay for a proposed trip to study Australia’s vulnerable pygmy crocodile population. The pygmy crocodile was first discovered in Arnhem Land in the early 1980s, with a second population found near Bullo River, about 11 hours’ drive south of Darwin, in 2006. The crocodile population has since been hit hard by an invasion of cane toads into the Northern Territory.

Economy and Business

Green Bonds Issuance Nears $40 Billion, Overtakes 2014 Total
The global green bonds market had another blockbuster month in November, issuing more green bonds than any month so far this year. According to the Climate Bonds Initiative, green bonds worth $7.4 billion were issued during November, topping the October total of $5.19 billion. With the November issuance, the cumulative issuance for the current year also surpassed last year’s total of $36.59 billion, with total issuance for the year standing at $39.46 billion.

Youth unemployment in Africa: projects to help a ‘scarred generation’
Ernest Daka is an ambitious 22-year-old entrepreneur. He also grew up worrying about where his next meal was coming from. “I wasn’t able to concentrate at school”, he says. “I was wondering when I was going to be able to eat, what my family were going to do.” Starting his own business was a way out of poverty. In his home town of Chipata, eastern Zambia, chicken is expensive and largely purchased from supermarkets. Daka decided to try farming chickens to meet the local need after attending a business and financial literacy course run by a public-private partnership (PPP) between Unicef, Barclays and the Zambian government.

Politics and Society

Brazil sues BHP Billiton, Vale and Samarco for $7.2 billion over mine disaster
Brazil’s government has filed a $7.2 billion lawsuit against mining company Samarco Minerao and its co-owners, Australia’s BHP Billiton and Vale, to clean up the damage caused by the mine disaster in the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais.

Hacking Apple: putting the power of tech back into our hands
In an era of unbridled consumption, where big tech companies appear mightier than ever, it’s easy to feel disenfranchised. This is no accident, as companies use methods like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to prevent us from unlocking smartphones and repairing laptops. The result is millions of tonnes of e-waste, with our devices generally difficult to upgrade, fix or repurpose. But this powerlessness and waste can and is being challenged. Amid the glitter, a different kind of movement is quietly coming of age – one led by shared machine shops driven not by financial gain, but by a love for learning, neighbours and community.

Community garden for the homeless wins Big Idea competition
AUSTRALIA – A proposal to turn part of Adelaide’s Southern parklands into a community garden that will provide flexible and transitional employment, education and training opportunities for people experiencing homelessness has won this year’s Big Idea (postgraduate) competition. Co-ordinated by homelessness social enterprise The Big Issue, the Big Idea seeks to find new social enterprise ideas from university students that can deliver benefits to society.

Dhaka: the city where climate refugees are already a reality
Parul Akter travelled across Bangladesh to escape the flood waters, but they seem to have followed her. The shack she shares with her husband and four children in Dhaka, the nation’s capital, sits on the edge of the sprawling Korail slum – next to a lake. When it rains, dank water sloshes into their shelter. Only the bed, raised up on bricks, stays dry. “This room is all we have, so we need to stay here no matter what happens,” said Akter.

Australia needs a fresh start on climate policy: CCA
Australia needs to “reset” discussions related to climate policy, according to the government’s advisory body on climate policy. The Climate Change Authority makes the argument in the second draft report of its special review on policy. In a statement released today, acting chair Stuart Allinson said, “it is time for a fresh look at the range of policy options… with a view to ‘resetting’ Australia’s public discussion. In recent years, the climate policy conversation has become highly polarised. Different policy options have attracted both strong support and criticism. At times it appears, amid the heated debate, we have lost sight of the key goal,” he said.

Built Environment

Beijing residents use humour to cope with ‘scary’, hazardous air pollution
Beijing residents have turned to social media to joke about the smog blanketing the capital, as authorities issue a rare pollution alert and urge schools to keep children indoors. For the second straight day, the city’s official air quality index exceeded 500 micrograms per cubic metre. The unofficial US embassy measurement, which many people trust over the government figures, reached as high as 606. Prolonged exposure to air that contains more than 300 micrograms per cubic metre, known as PM2.5, is generally regarded as hazardous.

Photo: Vehicles pass a road in Beijing as an electronic sign reads, "low visibility, slow down". (Reuters: Jason L)

Photo: Vehicles pass a road in Beijing as an electronic sign reads, “low visibility, slow down”. (Reuters: Jason L)

China’s vacuum-cleaner artist turning Beijing’s smog into bricks
His idol is Subcomandante Marcos, the masked Mexican rebel; his weapon of choice a 1,000-watt vacuum cleaner. Meet Nut Brother, the Chinese activist-artist attempting to vanquish toxic smog by sucking it up through a black plastic nozzle… For the last 100 days, the activist, whose real name is Wang Renzheng, has used the industrial appliance to extract dust and other lung-choking pollutants from the city’s atmosphere before transforming them into a dark brown “smog brick”.

Electric motorbike shows petrolheads the future
NEW ZEALAND – A Marlborough man has stripped his motorcycle bare and rebuilt it to run on electricity. Sytee Tacoma, 25, spent countless late nights in his garage crafting the electric-powered speedster. Tacoma said he came up with the idea of making the bike while studying mechanical engineering at the University of Canterbury… Tacoma stripped bare an old Chassis Aprilia SR250 motorbike and replaced the engine with a 65 horsepower AC induction motor and a lithium ion battery pack. “It’s got a charger. You plug it into the wall and it costs $1.50 to charge and that will get you 120 kilometres,” Tacoma said.

More electric car charging stations on the cards for Wellington region
NEW ZEALAND – Electric car owners could soon have more places to ‘plug in’ across the Wellington region. Greater Wellington Regional Council has taken the first tentative steps towards getting a full network of “fast charging” stations in place across Wellington, Porirua, Hutt Valley, Kapiti and Wairarapa.

South Australia details $10 billion low-carbon investment plan
South Australia has revealed the details of its plan achieve $10 billion in investment in low-carbon generation by 2025 – a major part of the state government’s new climate policy, announced on Monday. The plan, launched by Premier Jay Weatherill on Tuesday, sets out four key strategies to meet the investment target – as well as its renewable energy target of 50 per cent by 2025; both key pathways to the government’s goal of establishing Adelaide as the world’s first carbon neutral city.

Food Systems

Nine ways to improve nutrition and tackle climate change
How should we deal with the serious threat climate change poses to nutrition and food security? Our panel of experts have their say.

When climate change hits our food supply, city foodbowls could come to the rescue
The urban fringes of Australia’s major cities are some of the most productive agricultural regions in Australia. They also have access to valuable urban waste streams to support food production, including recycled water from city water treatment plants and desalination plants. Nonetheless, Australia’s city foodbowls are at risk of urban development, and the opportunity to develop them as climate resilient foodbowls could be lost unless their value is recognised in metropolitan planning policy.


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