Sustainable Development News

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

Social stability is the missing link underpinning economic growth
Can governments plan Australia’s future just by improving selected economic indicators? Will a focus on creating more jobs, cutting taxes and growing GDP be enough to ensure well-being? These are the core agenda items being pushed by the Abbott government. Yet they may prove to be much too limited to be the main items for policy decisions about Australia’s future…. The above approaches assume any recognition of equity needs could only be achieved by post-hoc redistribution: after productivity gains were sufficient to provide the extra resources to be shared with the community.

Energy and Climate Change

Smooth industrial robot movements could cut energy consumption by up to 40%
The energy consumption of industrial robots could be cut by up to 40% thanks to new movement optimization techniques developed by researchers from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden.  The researchers say they have developed an algorithm that helps minimise a robot’s acceleration and deceleration, as well as the time the robot is at a standstill.

How floating turbines could harness the awesome power of the tides
The world’s tides contain enough energy to power the entire UK’s electricity consumption. And, since it effectively harnesses the moon’s constant and predictable gravitational pull, tidal power overcomes one of renewable energy’s classic problems – the fact you never know quite how much sun, wind or rain to expect. Now, underwater windmills positioned just below the ocean surface could be a major breakthrough for tidal power.

IEA: Fossil fuels losing price advantage to renewables
Renewable energy sources can now produce electricity at a price very close to the cost of electricity generated by fossil fuels, according to a new report released yesterday by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The report – Projected Costs of Generating Electricity 2015 – was produced in association with the Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) and calculates the cost of producing electricity from different types of new power plants across 22 different countries. It shows the cost of producing electricity from solar and wind has dropped sharply in the past five years, thanks to sustained technological progress.

NSW slashes solar tariffs to push households into battery storage
The New South Wales pricing regulator has slashed the value of solar feed-in tariffs in the state in what appears to be a deliberate move to push consumers to adopt battery storage, and to lock in long-term deals with major retailers. The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) on Monday announced in a draft determination that the recommended average tariff – which is voluntary anyway for electricity retailers  in NSW – had been cut by 14 per cent to an average 4.8c/kWh, the lowest in Australia.

Flurry of tropical cyclones give super El Nino another boost
The hyperactive hurricane season in the Pacific has jumped up another gear, spawning a record trio of category 4 strength tropical storms that will give the powerful El Nino event yet another boost. Hurricanes Kilo and Ignacio were to the west and east of the Hawaii Islands on Monday, while Jimena spun further to the east.

Obama pleads for Paris climate change deal
US President Barack Obama has called on world leaders to agree to cut carbon emissions at crucial talks in Paris later this year. Speaking in Alaska, he said countries including his own were not doing enough to stop global warming. World powers meet in Paris in December with the aim of agreeing to curb global temperature rises. Mr Obama said now was the time “to protect the one planet we’ve got while we still can”.

Obama’s approval of Arctic drilling ‘undermines his climate message’
Barrack Obama has fatally undermined the message of his visit to the Arctic to highlight the dangers of climate change because his administration allowed Shell to drill there, a leading US environmentalist has said. Bill McKibben, winner of the Right Livelihood prize in 2014, sometimes referred to as an alternative Nobel, and founder of, said that Obama’s actions were a “bad contradiction”. “It is very difficult for Barrack Obama or anybody else to say, ‘look we take this completely seriously, this is the greatest problem the world’s ever faced but it’s OK to go ahead and start drilling a whole new oil field up in the Arctic.’

Dutch government to appeal against carbon emissions ruling
The Dutch government will appeal against a district court ruling ordering it to cut emissions of greenhouse gases faster than currently planned, in a politically sensitive case that is being closely watched by policy-makers abroad.

Economy and Business

New Australian sustainability and fossil free indices launched
With investment analysts showing increasing concern about the negative impacts of fossil fuels on investment portfolios, Future Super has banded together with media and information firm Thomson Reuters to create two new indices of ASX-listed companies that are fossil-fuel free and leaders in environmental, social and corporate governance practices, respectively. The Thomson Reuters/Future Super Australia Fossil Free Index and the Thomson Reuters/Future Super Australia Sustainable Leaders Index have been designed to give investors improved transparency around ASX-listed companies’ sustainability credentials.

Electronics Recycling: Breaking Down Barriers to Employment
By turning electronics recycling into a social enterprise, members of the Impact Recyclers network are keeping e-waste out of landfills while helping people find work.

Chris and Matt Morrison: The Fairtrade champions
Consumers gulp back 1.9 million cola drinks every day but the African farmers growing the ingredient that spawned a global fizzy phenomenon never see a cent. That was until All Good Organics, the guys that introduced New Zealand to Fairtrade bananas, stepped in. All Good Organics created Karma Cola using the original cola nut ingredient that had long been abandoned by the soft drink giants in favour of artificial colours and flavours.

Adrian Barkla: organic retailer
NEW ZEALAND – Only dead fish swim with the current, says organic food advocate Adrian Barkla. Rather than hiding in the specialties section, Barkla’s Remuera New World supermarket’s organic produce takes pride of place in the fresh food aisles – normalising the purchase of organic vegetables and fruit. What’s on the shelf can depend on seasonal supply but Barkla says at its peak organic produce can make up 50 per cent of fresh produce sales at his store. It’s not just fruit and vegetables. Meat supplied by Harmony Farms accounts for 15 per cent of sales at the store. Customers love it too, with some coming from all over Auckland just for the organic produce selection.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Only one third of European e-waste ‘properly recycled’
Just one third of all used-but-still-functioning electronics were properly recycled across the EU in 2012, according to a major new study by the UN and Interpol.  The EU-funded project, known as Countering WEEE Illegal Trade (CWIT), spent two years investigating the waste electronics market. It found that just 35% of 9.5 million tonnes of used-but-still-functioning waste electronics ended up in official collection and recycling systems. The other discarded electronics – 6.2 million tonnes in all – was either exported, recycled under non-compliant conditions or simply thrown in waste bins.

Queensland Environment Minister says voluntary reef runoff programs must perform to prevent regulations
AUSTRALIA – The Queensland Environment Minister Steven Miles has stopped short of issuing an ultimatum to the sugar industry on reef runoff, but says growers need to do better.  The industry and opposition fear slow take up of a voluntary Best Management Practice (BMP) program would be used to justify re-introducing unpopular reef regulations.  Mr Miles confirmed he met representatives of the cane industry and other sectors over the issue, and said the government is committed to working with them to improve take up of BMP programs.

Recycling pacemakers
NEW ZEALAND – Jude Mannion is not shy when it comes to talking about death. As a firm believer in bucket lists, her final wishes are planned in full, including donations she’d like to make and what music she wants played at her funeral. The 55-year-old CEO is also no stranger to innovation. She plans to combine her passions with her newest endeavor, the Pacemaker Trust, which could save over 300 lives per year by recycling a device that otherwise ends up in landfills.

Enviroreel left out of Waste Minimisation Fund
NEW ZEALAND – A $1.2 million government recycling project has left one Kiwi plastics company feeling hard done by. The Government’s Waste Minimisation Fund has provided a $700,000 grant to the Packaging Forum to trial a new recycling service at retailers across Auckland. A further $510,000 was given to Australian-based company Astron Plastics Group to develop facilities in New Zealand capable of processing plastic products.  Until then collected material will be sent to Australia and as far as China. However, Penrose based company Enviroreel says it has been capable of processing waste material like plastic bags for 25 years.

From metal to plastic: recycling soft plastic in NZ
NEW ZEALAND – In a guest post, Colin Merritt from Wellington-based street and park furniture manufacturer, Metal Art, reveals how the company has begun the first steps towards what seemed to be an impossible dream: recycling soft plastic in New Zealand.

Cradle to Cradle, AutoDesk Launch Second Annual Product Design Challenge
Today is the launch of the second annual Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge, which calls upon designers to innovate products for the circular economy. Participants will be awarded up to $6,000 for their designs that creatively eliminate the concept of waste.  Interested participants can submit designs through December 1, 2015, and find full details of the competition here.

Politics and Society

New Zealand should take lead on climate change in the Pacific
OPINION: Six months after Cyclone Pam brought devastation to the Pacific and three months before critical global climate change negotiations in Paris, Pacific leaders, including New Zealand, are set to come together in Papua New Guinea for the most important annual political meeting for the region. The 46th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting will start on September 7 and climate change will be high on the agenda. For a region that is already suffering the severe impacts of climate change, a strong statement calling for an ambitious global climate change agreement is expected from Forum leaders.

Miners lose edge as NSW government balances profits against damage before approvals
AUSTRALIA – The Baird government has amended its mining policy process to give equal billing to a project’s economic, environmental and social impacts when determining approval in a move likely to anger the mining industry. The plan to change the mining State Environmental Planning Policy (SEPP) to end the priority being given to economic factors is understood to have won “broad support” when it went to cabinet on Friday. Planning Minister Rob Stokes said in a statement on Monday that the community had been overwhelmingly in favour of the change.

Viewpoint: Uncomfortable realities of big game hunting
Trophy hunting has been the subject of much media attention amid the backdrop of declining populations of big game animals in Africa. But is a blanket ban really the answer? At the end of June 2015, a Zimbabwe lion known as Cecil was wounded by a crossbow bolt shot by American dentist Walter Palmer.  Sometime later Cecil was shot and finally killed.  The media attention that followed made it clear that many people were unaware of the realities of modern-day African hunting.  In fact, if you have enough money and are so inclined, you can legally hunt pretty much any African animal, including lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and hippo.

Built Environment

Perth schools needed for low-carbon pilot program
SimplyCarbon in Perth is accepting applications for schools in the Perth metropolitan area interested in being part of a low carbon schools pilot program being run in partnership with the City of Fremantle. The program aims to help schools reduce their carbon emissions from energy by 20 per cent. It will also provide workshops where participants can learn skills and knowledge needed to reduce resource consumption, carbon emissions and costs…. The program will also provide teachers with opportunities to embed the low carbon initiatives into the curriculum, in line with the Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative framework.

Food Systems

Soil health warning not all doom and gloom
A Sydney academic says a report by international scientists that the world’s soils are being degraded is “not all gloom and doom”. A report last month in the journal Science warned that the world’s soils were being degraded and in the next few decades productivity would fall and food security would be threatened. The World Food and Agriculture Organisation issued a warning that the world’s soils had only 60 years of harvests left, because they were becoming degraded. The FAO said more needed to be done to rehabilitate soils and prevent further degradation and desertification. But Dr Damien Field, from the Department of Agriculture and the Environment at the University of Sydney, said recent reports about soil health were a timely warning but by no means a doom and gloom scenario.

Farmed fish could bring us cheaper food, but is it ethical?
It is difficult to know which is moving faster: the debate around the ethics of farmed fish, or the growth in how much of it we are eating. By 2030, aquaculture is predicted to account for 60% of fish destined for our plates and it’s already more than half. Its rapid growth has led some to predict its success in producing cheaper fish could rub off on the meat sector, giving us a more efficient, but not necessarily more ethical, form of protein.


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