Sustainable Development News

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

Greenland ice sheet melting has started early
In a year of startling data pointing to a warming world, the thin blue line in the chart below of Greenland’s ice melt was initially dismissed as just too outlandish to be accurate. Greenland is home to the world’s second largest ice mass, containing enough water to lift average sea levels about seven metres if it all melted. So in early April, signs that the giant ice sheets were melting at least a month earlier than typical during the three decades-plus of reliable records stunned scientists at the Danish Meteorological Institute.

The early-season melting of Greenland ice has scientists worried. Photo: Daniel Beltra, via Catherine Edelman Gallery (Chicago)

The early-season melting of Greenland ice has scientists worried. Photo: Daniel Beltra, via Catherine Edelman Gallery (Chicago)

Energy and Climate Change

China’s 1-2-3 punch to tackle wasted renewable energy
Like other countries, China faces challenges in its shift to low-carbon electricity. One major problem is “curtailment,” which means power grids do not use renewable power even when wind and solar power plants are capable of producing it. Close to 10 percent of solar capacity remained untapped during the first half of 2015, while around 15 percent of wind power was wasted throughout the year. In regions such as Gansu, Ningxia, Heilongjiang, Xinjiang and Yunnan, the situation is a lot worse. China’s Renewable Energy Law prohibits curtailment, but the problem persists, partly for technical reasons. However, a large part of the problem is not technical.

Off-Grid Home Solar Provider Fenix International Has Signed 60,000 Leases In Uganda To Date
The leading off-grid home solar energy system provider in Uganda, Fenix International, has now signed 60,000 leases for its ReadyPay Power offering (since January 2014), according to a new press release. Altogether, the leases relate to $11 million in business — and there’s now been an estimated 300,000 Ugandans that have been provided reliable electricity for the first time through these.

Home battery storage installation guidelines released by CEC
As more and more Australian households look to battery storage as a way to get the most out of their rooftop solar systems, a set of installation guidelines has been released for industry and consumers.

New peer-to-peer solar power platform allows households to use each other’s solar power
NEW ZEALAND – If you’ve always wanted to use solar power but do not want to go through the expense of installing a system on your house – or you’re renting and can’t – a new power company may be the answer. P2 Power has launched the country’s first peer-to-peer solar power platform.  The electricity company’s technology, called SolarShare, uses smart meters to track power produced and used.

Environment and Biodiversity

Great Barrier Reef bleaching would be almost impossible without climate change
There is indisputable evidence that climate change is harming the reef. Yet, so far, no one has assessed how much climate change might be contributing to bleaching events such as the one we have just witnessed. Unusually warm sea surface temperatures are strongly associated with bleaching. Because climate models can simulate these warm sea surface temperatures, we can investigate how climate change is altering extreme warm conditions across the region.

EcoCheck: Australia’s Alps are cool, but the heat is on
Think of an Australian landscape and you’re unlikely to picture snow-capped mountains or alpine meadows. But that’s what you’ll find atop the peaks of the country’s southeastern corner. Although relatively small – covering about 11,000 square kilometres or 0.15% of the continent – these alpine and subalpine ecosystems have outstanding natural value and provide billions of dollars’ worth of benefits to the nation each year. They are in comparatively good health but are facing numerous threats. However, their health in decades and centuries to come will depend largely on how we deal with these threats now.


Alpine wetland, rich in Sphagnum and other peat-forming plants, Bogong High Plains, Alpine National Park, Victoria. Photo: James Camac

Alpine wetland, rich in Sphagnum and other peat-forming plants, Bogong High Plains, Alpine National Park, Victoria. Photo: James Camac

No to rehab? The mining downturn risks making mine clean-ups even more of an afterthought
Mining is environmentally damaging, but as a society we broadly accept this because of the financial benefits it provides, and because we assume ways can be found to fix the damage. Miners are now legally obliged to rehabilitate the area after mining is completed, but still some mine sites have had to be treated at the public’s expense.
See also: Ranger uranium mine rehab deal welcomed after Rio Tinto offers $100m clean-up loan

More tigers poached in India so far this year than in 2015
More tigers have been killed in India already this year than in the whole of 2015, a census showed Friday, raising doubts about the country’s anti-poaching efforts. The Wildlife Protection Society of India, a conservation charity, said 28 of the endangered beasts had been poached by 26 April, three more than last year. Tiger meat and bones are used in traditional Chinese medicine and fetch high prices. “The stats are worrying indeed,” said Tito Joseph, programme manager at the group.

Kenya torches world’s biggest ivory bonfire to save elephants
Eleven giant pyres of tusks have been set alight as Kenya torches its vast ivory stockpile in a grand gesture aimed at shocking the world into stopping the slaughter of elephants. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta — who was the first to light the semi-circle of tusks expected to burn for days in Nairobi’s national park — has demanded a total ban on trade in ivory to end trafficking and prevent the extinction of elephants in the wild.

Australian bearded dragons experience deep sleep, dreams, scientists say
Research in a German laboratory involving five Australian bearded dragons indicates the reptiles may dream and could prompt a fundamental reassessment of the evolution of sleep. Scientists said they have documented for the first time that reptiles, like people, experience rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and another sleep stage called slow-wave sleep. Until now, only mammals and birds were known to experience these.\

Economy and Business

Are sustainable farming certifications making a difference?
Independent, third-party certification has grown phenomenally since 1993, when the Rainforest Alliance certified the first banana plantation to meet Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standards.  The standards prohibit conversion of forests or other natural ecosystems to cropland, protect workers and wildlife, regulate the use of chemicals and other farming practices. Today they cover more than a million farmers on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, most of them smallholders, cultivating 100 crops on a total of 7.4 million acres (about the size of Switzerland) across 42 countries.

Fairphone: one smartphone company’s search for conflict-free gold
Gold is an essential material in many of today’s gadgets, with the electronics industry being the third largest consumer of gold globally, after jewellery and the financial sector. Used in the printed circuit boards of smartphones – because of its excellent conductivity – as well as in other phone components, the metal is also one of the four conflict minerals identified by the Dodd-Frank Act passed in 2010 in the US, which put a spotlight on gold, tin, tantalum and tungsten financing rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Waste and the Circular Economy\

Bayer spinoff Covestro pitches chemicals for a circular economy
Thirty years ago, a U.S. offshoot of German pharmaceutical giant Bayer was just coming to grips with the environmental ills that can accompany production of industrial materials. The operator of a 270-acre chemical plant in West Virginia, which came to be known as Bayer MaterialScience, was tasked in 1987 with undertaking corrective action to prevent “unacceptable exposure” to carcinogenic contaminants found in soil and water at the site, according to Environmental Protection Agency reports.
 But that was then. In September, a newly independent version of the $12 billion Bayer materials business called Covestro was launched with a goal of pulling off a re-brand with sustainability at the core of 2,000-plus product offerings in industries including transportation, construction, electronics and textiles.

Trending: Beauty, Packaging No Longer Need to Come at the Expense of Our Oceans
Is it possible for plastic packaging to co-exist with healthy oceans and less trash in landfills? A group of three designers from Japan believes it can, and has created several packaging material prototypes from a new kind of plastic derived from seaweed. The design collective, AMAM, is exploring the potential uses of agar as an alternative to synthetic plastics of all kinds through an ongoing material research project known as Agar Plasticity.

Wellington businesses go through the trash to save cash
NEW ZEALAND – Businesses in the capital are digging deep into their rubbish do their bit for the environment. Wellington Chocolate Factory, Laundry, Southern Cross, Logan Brown and Rimutaka Prison are the latest entities to take part in the Sustainability Trust’s waste and energy audit projects, which aim help businesses save money, while improving business practices, and reducing climate-change emissions.

Politics and Society

Indian authorities ban cooking as deadly heat kills hundreds
With sizzling temperatures claiming more than 300 lives this month in India, officials said they were banning daytime cooking in some parts of the drought-stricken country in a bid to prevent accidental fires that have killed nearly 80 more people. The eastern state of Bihar this week took the unprecedented step of forbidding any cooking between 9am and 6pm, after accidental fires exacerbated by dry, hot and windy weather swept through shantytowns and thatched-roof houses in villages and killed 79 people.

Rare rallies in Vietnam over mysterious mass fish deaths
Hundreds of people demonstrated in Vietnam on Sunday against a Taiwanese firm they accuse of causing mass fish deaths along the country’s central coast, with some also blaming the government for a sluggish response to a major environmental disaster. Though an official investigation has found no links between the fish deaths and a $10.6 billion coastal steel plant run by a unit of Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics, public anger against the company has not abated.

Obama administration warns of ‘climate refugees’ due to rapid Arctic warming
The Obama administration has warned the US will need to deal with a wave of “climate refugees” as the Arctic continues to warm, joining with the Canadian government to express alarm over how climate change is affecting indigenous communities.

PolicyCheck: Labor’s phased emissions trading scheme
AUSTRALIA – Labor has announced a six point climate change strategy, aimed at increasing renewable energy use, improving energy efficiency and transitioning away from old and inefficient coal power stations. The policy includes a plan to reintroduce an emissions trading scheme for large emitters (over 25,000 tonnes annually), introduced over two phases.
See also: Analyst’s corner: ALP energy policy not ideal, but it is credible

ACT lifts 2020 target to 100% renewable energy, as Australia stalls
The ACT government says it will better its 90 per cent renewable energy target by 2020, and will in fact source 100 per cent of its electricity needs from renewable energy by that date. In the same week that federal Labor was pilloried by the Coalition and most mainstream media for confirming its national target of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030, ACT’s minister for the environment and climate change Simon Corbell said the switch to 100 per cent renewables was both achievable and affordable.

Climate policy uncertainty could cost as much as 1% of GDP, report finds
Modelling by the former Reserve Bank of Australia board member Warwick McKibbin, done for the former Abbott government, found the Coalition’s promise to cut emissions by between 26% and 28% – if achieved with efficient policies – would shave between 0.2% and 0.3% from GDP in 2030, whereas Labor’s 45% target would reduce GDP by between 0.5% and 0.7%. But the same modelling found the difference between the two policies (0.3% of GDP), or even the cost of the Labor target, would be dwarfed by the potential cost of continued investor uncertainty – which could be as high as 1% of GDP.

The secrets to stress-free sustainability (Book excerpt]
[This article] is an excerpt from the book “Stress-Free Sustainability,” a stress management guide for “sustainability champions.”

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”  — Nelson Mandela


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