Sustainable Development News
Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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How three-day weekends can help save the world (and us, too)
Almost everyone enjoys a bank holiday. A three-day weekend means more time to spend with family and friends, to go out and explore the world and to relax from the pressures of working life. Imagine if, rather than a few times a year, we had a three-day weekend every week. This isn’t just a nice idea. Beyond the possibilities for leisure, three-day weekends might be one of the easiest steps we could take to radically reduce our environmental impact and future-proof our economy.
Energy and Climate Change
Arctic sea ice will miss record low despite major melt, experts say
As the sun begins its seasonal descent in the Arctic sky and temperatures drop, the summer melt of sea ice is slowing down. In the next few weeks, the span of the Arctic Ocean covered by ice will reach its annual low. But despite beginning the summer at unprecedentedly low levels, this year’s minimum won’t break the stunning record of 2012, experts say, thanks to cloudy weather that slowed the rate of melt.
The Southern Ocean is getting less salty. Here’s what that could mean for the rest of the world
The ocean surrounding Antarctica has become substantially less salty over the past couple of decades — and until now, scientists weren’t really sure why. But because changes in the Southern Ocean’s salinity have the potential to affect all kinds of important processes, including ocean circulation and its transport of heat and nutrients around the world, researchers have been eager to figure it out. Now, a new study, published Wednesday in Nature, suggests that sea ice may be one of the major culprits.
Halogen spotlights to be phased out across Europe
Energy-gobbling halogen spotlights will be phased out across Europe from Thursday, in a boost for super-efficient LEDs ahead of a wider halogen bulb ban in 2018. Directional halogen bulbs already in stores can still be sold after today but no new retailer orders will be possible for the spotlights, which can waste up to 10 times more energy than LEDs.
The Climate Change Authority’s gamble on political pragmatism
The Climate Change Authority’s latest report outlining a recommended climate policy “toolkit” is a reflection of what is seen by many as politically feasible in Australia now. But it is piecemeal and lacks a vision for the longer-term policy framework needed to get Australia on track to a low-carbon economy.
Australia among the climate laggards as G20 action falls far short of goals
The world’s 20 largest economies need to increase their 2030 climate commitments six-fold to keep within the two-degree warming curb agreed at the Paris summit, and Australia is among the worst laggards, a new global report argues. The Brown to Green study of the decarbonisation plans of the G20 nations by the Climate Transparency group was released on Thursday ahead of the G20 summit in Hangzhou, eastern China, on September 4-5.
Environment and Biodiversity
Research breakthrough to boost native forestry
A scientific breakthrough could replenish vast expanses of our countryside with lush native forest – and offer a lucrative new forestry industry for New Zealand. Scion researchers have discovered how to grow native trees, including rimu and totara, from cuttings taken from parent trees instead of seeds, enabling them to grow much faster and in larger amounts.
Sensitive marine habitats near proposed mining area
NEW ZEALAND – A report has found that 158 unique species and sensitive marine habitats exist off the Taranaki coast in an area bordering a proposed seabed mining operation. Taranaki Regional Council commissioned the Cawthron Institute to investigate the region’s coastal marine area as it prepares a new management plan. It found as well as unique species, the area included valuable kelp and sponge gardens, and was more significant than previously thought.
Hawaii under threat: the environment Obama has called to protect – in pictures
The US president was in Honolulu on Wednesday to tell an audience of Pacific island leaders that ‘No nation … is immune from a changing climate.’ Last week Obama created the world’s largest marine reserve by quadrupling in size the biodiverse Papahānaumokuākea national monument. He will visit Midway Atoll, part of the protected area, on Thursday.
The race for vast remote ‘marine protected areas’ may be a diversion
Supporters say these marine protected areas, known as MPAs, have a key role to play in marine conservation as they protect from fishing, mining, drilling or other human activities, and allow habitats and species to be restored. Yet these protections might be undermining the very aims of global marine conservation targets. As we argue in a viewpoint published in the journal Marine Policy, it’s not enough to simply cover the remotest parts of our oceans in notional “protection” – we need to focus on seas closer to shore, where most of the fishing and drilling actually happens.
Scientists puzzled by fields of giant donut-shaped reefs found off north Queensland
Australian scientists working with laser data from the Royal Australian Navy have discovered a reef system covering around 6,000 square kilometres, north of the Great Barrier Reef. James Cook University’s Dr Robin Beaman explained the ‘inter-reef’ structure sits just behind the familiar coral reefs, on a deeper seafloor… “We refer to these reef structures as bioherms, these structures are around 20 metres thick,” explained Dr Beaman. “These bioherms are made by Halimeda which is green algae and when it dies it generates these white, almost cornflake-like flakes of limestone. And what we know is that over perhaps a 10,000-year period they’ve built up these remarkable structures.”
Queensland Environment Minister chastises his department for approving mine on conservation land
AUSTRALIA – An in-stream mine on a Cape York property is one step closer after the Queensland Environment Department issued a draft authority for the project, despite the same department buying the land for conservation earlier this year. The Environment Department had also lodged a formal objection to the mine with another department… The Environment Department bought Springvale Station for $7 million in June, saying the property contributed 30 to 40 per cent of the gully sediments flowing into the northern section of the reef from the Normanby catchment.
‘Extinction by decree’: Remnant forest in Wolli Creek faces the chop
AUSTRALIA – One of the last critically endangered woodlands in Sydney’s south faces the chop within days to provide temporary parking space for WestConnex machinery, opponents say. The bulk of the 1.87 hectares of remnant forest fringing the M5 motorway and Canterbury Golf Club may fall under bulldozers as soon as Wednesday. The woodland is part of just 7 per cent of the original Cooks River/Castlereagh Ironbark forest that remains, according to the Office of Environment Heritage.
Beneath the surface of tourism in Bali
“For thrill seekers and chill seekers” – that’s the phrase the Today Tonight television program used to show areas in Bali as a freshly rebranded holiday destination, in its recent Brand New Bali series. But beneath the glamorous surface of cocktails, swimming pools and beach holidays lies an environmental threat that may cause the island to face a water crisis in less than four years. One segment of Brand New Bali focused on the area of Canggu, hailed as the new “place to be”, after Kuta, Legian and Seminyak.
Kenya’s elephants at home in the Samburu national reserve – in pictures
Though Kenya’s elephant population is stable and poaching is relatively under control, across Africa savannah elephants are increasingly under threat.
Genetic studies may hold the key to saving west and central Africa’s lions
Tropical rain forests, dry deserts and mountainous vistas: Africa is home to all of these very different ecosystems and more. Its varied ecosystems provide a habitat for numerous species, and the continent harbours a great richness of biodiversity. But within species, there is another level of biodiversity: genetic variation. Even within species, there are wildly different populations… The formation of mountain ranges or islands, or the extension of rivers or forests, all influence the distribution of species: from trees, to tiny flying insects – to top predators like the lion.
Economy and Business
Direct Action not as motivating as carbon tax say some of Australia’s biggest emitters
Australia’s largest listed, carbon intensive companies say management lost focus on carbon matters, abandoned energy projects and didn’t have the commercial imperative to produce long-term strategic action on reducing emissions after the carbon tax was repealed, new research finds. Our research looked at the comparative views of emitters before and after the repeal of the carbon tax legislation, in interviews with 18 senior managers from nine carbon-intensive listed companies.
Korean palm oil firm accused of illegal forest burning in Indonesia
A Korean palm oil company has been dropped by buyers after footage emerged that allegedly shows the illegal burning of vast tracts of tropical forest on lands it holds concessions for in Indonesia. Some of the world’s biggest palm oil trading producers including Wilmar, Musim Mas and IOI have stopped using palm oil sourced from Korindo, much of which is destined to meet European demand.
Waste and the Circular Economy
Third of dead seabirds found to have eaten rubbish, University of Queensland study finds
AUSTRALIA – An alarming number of dead seabirds examined by Queensland researchers were found to have eaten rubbish. A University of Queensland team examined 370 bird carcasses across 61 species from the state’s south-east, in the largest survey of its kind in the southern hemisphere. Dr Kathy Townsend from UQ’s Moreton Bay research station, off Brisbane, said about one third of the birds had eaten debris.
Treated vineyard posts a toxic problem in Marlborough, resident says
NEW ZEALAND – A Marlborough resident has called for a high temperature furnace to be built so chemically treated posts used in vineyards can be disposed of without damaging the environment. Wairau Valley resident Cliff Smith said toxic waste dumps were being created around the region by stockpiling thousands of old or broken posts, some treated with copper-chrome-arsenic, or CCA.
Politics and Society
The IUCN World Conservation Congress begins
The state of Hawaii is hosting The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress under the theme “Planet at the Crossroads”, taking place from 1st -10th September. The Congress, held every four years, is the largest conservation event in the world.
Pope Francis says destroying the environment is a sin
Pope Francis has called for urgent action to stop climate change and proposed that caring for the environment be added to traditional Christian works of mercy such as feeding the hungry and visiting the sick. In a message to mark the Catholic church’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation that he launched last year, Francis said the worst impact of global warming was being felt by those who were least responsible for it – refugees and the poor.
Brumby cull in Victoria’s Alpine region necessary to prevent environmental damage, ecologists say
AUSTRALIA – A group of academics are calling on the Victorian Government to eradicate 5,000 brumbies from Victoria’s Alpine region, who they say are causing massive damage to the environment. Their proposal involves using marksmen in helicopters to shoot the animals in order to cut down their numbers.
No fire, no food: tribe clings to slash-and-burn amid haze crackdown
Come August in Kapuas Hulu, West Kalimantan, it is time for the indigenous Dayak Iban to burn the land and plant the dry rice, or ladang, that will feed them the following year. “If we don’t plant ladang, we don’t eat,” said Apay Hudi, a lithe, silver-haired resident of the Sungai Utik longhouse, pausing as he fastened a new handle to an old, rusty field machete.
Frydenberg says ARENA de-funding is a “transfer”, not a strip
The future of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency remains up in the air, with both the Coalition and the Labor Party fudging on commitments to funding for innovation of renewable energy technologies.
120 CSIRO jobs face the axe if clean energy cuts go through
More than 120 research jobs at the CSIRO face the axe if the Coalition’s proposed cuts to the clean energy research agency are approved by Parliament.
New poll puts pressure on Senate, Labor to save renewable energy agency
A massive Reachtel poll of 10,271 people has found a thumping majority of Australians oppose the government cutting $1 billion from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. And there is even stronger support for an emissions intensity scheme that would force high emissions power plants to reduce their emissions.
Alinta looks to combine solar and geothermal for new housing estates
AUSTRALIA – Alinta Energy says it is looking at powering new suburban developments with a mixture of solar power and “distributed” geothermal energy, drilling 50 metres below the ground to provide heating and cooling needs for the homes in the district. The technology will act as a sort of giant heat pump, it says, and the combination of solar on the rooftop and geothermal under the ground could provide all of the suburb’s power needs, although it is likely that initial projects at least will stay on the grid “for the comfort” of households.
Sustainable House Day: Multi-res and spec home builders join the party
The annual nationwide Sustainable House Day line-up is showing a new trend, with multi-residential developers and spec home builders among those opening up properties to the public. Chief executive of the Alternative Technology Association, Donna Luckman, says the multi-res properties reflect the different ways people are responding to the question of housing affordability.
Sustainable House Day: Comfort doesn’t have to come at a big cost
For just $20,000 building designer Simone Schenkel and her husband managed to turn a brick veneer apartment with a miserable 0.8 NatHERS rating into an energy-efficient, thermally comfortable 8.4 star property. The Gruen apartment, in the outer Melbourne suburb of Ringwood, is a “typical” ’50s-’60s vintage apartment, one of four in a low rise building. Schenkel says the renovation did not need approval from the strata body, as almost all the changes have been on the inside aside from replacing the windows with imported thermally efficient double-glazed UVPC ones.
Sustainable House Day: How a green roof retrofit made a block into a community
With a whole lot of sweat equity and the help of a grant, the residents of a three-storey 1950s apartment block in St Kilda retrofitted a 646 square metre green roof. The result is not only improved stormwater management, reduced urban heat island effect and improved insulation for apartments, but also a space that has generated a real sense of community, according to resident Sonia Bednar.