Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Energy and Climate Change

Rapid Arctic ice loss linked to extreme weather changes in Europe and US
The string of massive snowstorms and bone-chilling cold on the US east coast, as well as flooding in Britain and record temperatures in Europe, are linked to rapid ice loss in the Arctic, new research appears to confirm. While the rapidly-thawing Arctic cannot be held responsible for specific weather events like the “snowmageddon” in 2009, Hurricane Sandy, or European heatwaves, researchers at Rutgers university said it appears to be a prime reason why the polar jet stream – a ribbon of winds that encircles the globe – gets ‘stuck’ with increasing frequency.

Can bladeless wind turbines mute opposition?
A new bladeless wind turbine that promises to be more efficient, less visually intrusive, and safer for birdlife than conventional turbines has been welcomed by two of the UK wind energy industry’s most vocal critics. The RSPB and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which have both expressed concerns over the impacts of industrial-scale windfarms on the landscape and wildlife, said the new turbine was encouraging news for birds and had the potential to open up more urban environments to the sector.

How renewable energy in South Africa is quietly stealing a march on coal
Although still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, South Africa has been quietly creating one of the world’s most progressive alternative energy plans. Solar, biomass and wind energy systems are popping up all over the country and feeding clean energy into the strained electrical grid. “It is set to completely transform these deep rural communities in terms of healthcare, education, job creation and a raft of other interventions. All this while putting green electricity on the grid at affordable prices,” said Johan van den Berg, director of the South African Wind Energy Association.

Government shrugs off climate change
A big economic call the Government has to make this year is what emissions target New Zealand will commit to for the 2020s. A brief public consultation process is under way, though unlike a similar exercise in 2009, the Minister responsible is not fronting up. The consultation document he released three weeks ago is a perfunctory and tendentious affair. The Government also recently released the result of economic modelling it commissioned to inform this decision. But the possible worlds it asked the modellers to explore bear little resemblance to the one we inhabit, so they illuminate the debate we ought to be having in a pretty limited way.

Environment and Biodiversity

UN watchdog urges rigorous reef rescue
The Great Barrier Reef will not be listed as endangered but will remain under watch because of “major threats” to its health, a draft recommendation to the UN’s World Heritage Committee says.  The Australian federal and Queensland governments have welcomed the draft report Unesco released on Friday. Environment Minister Greg Hunt called it “an overwhelming endorsement” of their approaches to reef protection. But environmental groups say the report puts both governments on notice to deliver on their promises to protect the reef. The UN’s conservation agency noted “with concern” the state of the reef, which has had World Heritage Site status since 1981.

Adopt-a-spot of conservation heaven
NEW ZEALAND – An adopt-a-spot programme, where volunteers take ownership of a patch of land at Matakohe-Limestone Island, is giving people the chance to make a hands-on difference to the city’s island sanctuary. Friends Delice Gregory and Angela Kokich are among the island’s first “spot guardians” and say a lack of publicity means the initiative has not yet taken off. The duo have been caring for their 50x50m patch for about a year, taking it from a shambles of runaway bracken and shoulder-high Mexican devil to a clear area where native seedlings are starting to sprout freely…  Contact the island ranger Bernie Buhler on 436 0923 or email for more information.

Mining company apply for prospecting permit for NZ seabed
NEW ZEALAND – A company which spent up to $65 million in a failed bid to mine ironsands from the South Taranaki seabed, has applied for a prospecting permit covering a huge swathe of seabed north of Ross. The Green Party today called for a moratorium on seabed mining, which it described as “completely experimental”. Trans-Tasman Resources announced yesterday it had applied to the Crown agency New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals for a 4436 square kilometre prospecting permit extending from Ross to north of Karamea, from 1km offshore out to the 12 nautical mile territorial limit. Trans-Tasman’s previous bid to mine in the exclusive economic zone was rejected by the Environmental Protection Agency last year.

Scientists probe mysterious wave of antelope deaths
Around half of the world’s critically endangered Saiga antelope have died suddenly in Kazakhstan since 10 May.  An unknown environmental trigger is thought to have caused two types of normally benign bacteria found in the antelopes’ gut to turn deadly. The animals die within hours of showing symptoms, which include depression, diarrhoea and frothing at the mouth. Prof Kock spoke to the BBC’s Science in Action programme after joining an international team in Kazakhstan studying the causes of the die-off.

Economy and Business

How to clean up the murky world of palm oil – video
It’s one of the world’s most popular commodities, found in 50% of consumer goods products, including chocolate, lipstick and body lotion. Yet its production often comes at a cost to local communities, forests and the wider environment.  Here we ask three experts what companies can do to bring us more sustainable palm oil that does not cause long-term ecological damage and benefits local communities.

A Meditation on Business Model Innovation for Sustainability
This year, Sustainable Brands San Diego is all about the ‘How.’ Companies want to know how to act on sustainability imperatives in the most effective way, but navigating the jungle of buzzwords and complex strategic frameworks is no walk in the park, or so it seems. What I have found through extensive research is that when it comes to creating shared value, building the circular economy and measuring impact, the in-between is everything, and great business model design is remarkably easy once you have a few key principles down and understand how to fill in the gaps in evolving stakeholder relationships, i.e. your in-between. Allow me to take a step back and explain.

Politics and Society

Europe’s energy big six say gas must help in the fight against climate change
The bosses of Europe’s six largest energy companies, including BP and Shell, have said gas should play a vital role in plans to tackle global warming, in a rare public intervention aimed at influencing UN talks. In a letter to the Financial Times, the energy companies also called for “widespread and effective” carbon pricing to be part of the solution that emerges from crucial climate talks in Paris taking place at the end of the year. The letter is signed by Ben van Beurden, the chief executive of Shell, Bob Dudley, the chief executive of BP, as well as their counterparts at BG Group, Eni, Statoil and Total.

Australia points to Direct Action in response to tough UN questions on climate responsibility
Australia has pegged its international climate change credibility on the Abbott government’s Direct Action scheme in its response to a series of tough questions from world super powers. Responding to the climate probe from countries including China and the United States, on Monday, Australia has also said it was unwilling at this stage to detail what emissions cuts Direct Action is expected to generate because it would be “premature”. Through the United Nations climate change negotiations developed countries are being required to answer questions on their targets, domestic policies and other aspects of the global warming policies.

Don’t burden future generations by leaving emissions cuts to them: Garnaut
Former climate adviser to two Labor governments Professor Ross Garnaut says Australia should ensure the heaviest burden of cutting greenhouse gases is not pushed onto future generations and new emissions targets should be set accordingly.  In a paper that has been sent to the Abbott government’s review of what targets to reduce emissions Australia should adopt for after 2020, Professor Garnaut proposes cuts of at least 27.5 per cent by 2025 and 40 per cent by 2030, both from 2000 levels. He says these targets would be consistent with a gradual and steady reduction in Australia’s emissions and broadly in line with the targets of other comparable countries.

Doctors union mounts push for government action to tackle climate change
The powerful doctors lobby group is set to ramp up pressure on the federal government to take action on climate change. Australian Medical Association vice president Stephen Parnis says a working group has been established to revamp the group’s climate policy before the UN climate change conference in Paris this year. “We would like Australia’s targets and priorities to be informed by AMA policy and influenced by AMA advocacy,” he told doctors at the AMA’s national conference in Brisbane on Sunday. Dr Parnis called for doctors to take a more active role in mitigating climate change, with the negative health effects already becoming apparent and putting additional strain on the health system.

Rubbish makes big impression on Nelson kids
NEW ZEALAND – There were sounds of disgust from children during an assembly at Nelson’s Victory School when they were faced with what four days of the schools rubbish looked like – literally. Year five and six members of interschool environment group, Tiaki Taiao Enviro Group, spent the last four days collecting the schools rubbish three times a day. They displayed four full bags of the schools waste at an assembly yesterday to raise awareness for the excess waste students were leaving… He said the group had made a good point to the school, and he had already noticed the school was cleaner.  “That’s the best thing about it, it shows how a small group of kids can make a difference,” he said.

Built Environment

Medibank adds health to green outcomes at its new Melbourne HQ
We recently featured a story on WELL ratings for buildings, the latest rating tool on the block, pushing sustainability ever outwards past the regular boundaries. One of the buildings that aspires to similar outcomes is the Medibank offices in Melbourne, developed by CBUS and designed by HASSELL.  In the health insurer’s new Melbourne offices, among the amenities are sit-to-stand workstations, an edible garden and a demonstration kitchen that is used for school groups and members of the public, plus links with the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program and other healthy eating initiatives… Medibank said the major driver for the new style of offices was research it commissioned through The Allen Consulting Group that showed almost half of Australian workers believe their workplace has a negative impact on their health.

Without affordable housing, we won’t have a society worth living in
Home ownership, the Australian Dream, is becoming a fading hope for those without an existing foothold in the market. For increasing numbers of younger Australians, the dream will give way to a future as tenants. This will have far-reaching negative impacts on how people live together in both the inner city and the suburbs unless housing, planning and investment policies come to terms with this shift. Robert Menzies’ Australian Dream of home ownership is beyond the reach of increasing numbers of young Australians. This is due to a multitude of factors, including the tax treatment of property and our attractiveness as a haven for foreign investment. If we are to become a “nation of renters”, how are our cities equipped to deal with this?

Food Systems

Drinking an ethical cup of coffee: how easy is it?
Selling an ethical cup of coffee has become big business. Likewise, the continued growth of guilt-free cappuccinos is one of the biggest recent success stories of the ethical consumer movement. Sales of Fairtrade coffee sales alone increased by 8% in the year 2013-14. This is consistent with a longer term trend that has seen Fairtrade retail sales of coffee beans grow by 250% in the decade from 2004 to 2014. This period has also seen a proliferation of other ethical coffee accreditation schemes, including Rainforest Alliance and UTZ. As the prevalence of ethical products grows so does the scrutiny of them, and rightly so.

Food forests may replace 25 playgrounds in Invercargill and Bluff
NEW ZEALAND – Twenty-five playgrounds in Invercargill and Bluff could be replaced with food forests under a proposal presented to the Invercargill City Council’s long-term plan hearing. Invercargill school teacher Jacqueline Stewart said using the 25 playground sites earmarked by the council for removal as part of a community permaculture or Mara Kai project would benefit the community. They would create a nutritious food source, increase awareness of the importance of healthy eating, provide employment, and create educational opportunities, she said. Stewart said the Riverton food forest operated by Robert and Robyn Guyton proved the proposal would attract people to the city.


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