Sustainable Development News

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

Earth has lost a third of arable land in past 40 years, scientists say
The world has lost a third of its arable land due to erosion or pollution in the past 40 years, with potentially disastrous consequences as global demand for food soars, scientists have warned. New research has calculated that nearly 33% of the world’s adequate or high-quality food-producing land has been lost at a rate that far outstrips the pace of natural processes to replace diminished soil.

Paris 2015: COP21

Paris UN Climate Conference 2015: 5 things we learnt today
As the VIP jets cleared the city, and the serious part of the Paris climate talks got under way, here is what we learnt on Tuesday.

Eco audit: Should we be aiming to keep global warming to 1.5C, not 2C?
2C – it’s become shorthand for a safe, equitable climate deal. But the science and the UN’s position is unequivocal that if the world warms 2C above the pre-industrial age by 2100, many countries will face unbearable devastation. Of the 195 countries present at the UN climate conference in Paris, 106 of the poorest have said a target of 1.5C is the only acceptable pathway for humankind. The head of the UN’s climate process, Christiana Figueres, has also backed this goal.

Paris, COP21: Poor countries want 100% renewables, not coal
If coal is good for humanity, then someone has forgotten to tell the world’s poorest countries. In a strongly worded statement that came out on the first day of talks at the Paris climate summit, the leaders of 30 of the world’s poorest countries said they wanted the world to be 100 per cent renewable by 2050.

World’s richest 10pc produce half of all global carbon emissions, the poorest half produces 10pc: Oxfam
The richest 10 per cent of people produce half of Earth’s climate-harming fossil-fuel emissions while the poorest half contribute a mere 10 per cent, a new study form British charity Oxfam says… Disputes over how to share responsibility for curbing greenhouse-gas emissions and aiding climate-vulnerable countries are among the thorniest and longest-running issues in the 25-year-old UN climate process.

COP21: Climate issues dividing rich and poor nations (Video)
When you have 195 countries negotiating at the climate change conference in Paris, some key issues remain contentious.  Some of the world’s poorest countries say they fear being “left behind” in the push for a new treaty. BBC News explains the key points dividing the rich and poor nations in the climate debate.

COP21: Coal plans would derail 2 degree warming target
Attempts to keep global warming to 2 degrees will be wildly off course if all planned coal fire plants are built. That’s the conclusion of a new analysis presented here at the UN climate conference near Paris.  Researchers said construction would see emissions four times higher than the 2 degree target by 2030. They say the building plans are in conflict with the carbon cutting agendas of countries like India and China.

EU puts recycling on the agenda at Paris climate talks
Europe has put recycling on the agenda of the Paris climate talks with a raft of new waste targets to cut emissions, with its environment commissioner calling on other countries to follow the EU’s lead. Under the new goals, by 2030 European countries will have to recycle 65% of their municipal rubbish and 75% of their product packaging, as well as reducing landfill dumping to a maximum of 10% of overall waste disposal. The targets, some of which are binding, are expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2-4% within 15 years.

China says it will cut power sector emissions 60% by 2020
China will reduce emissions of major pollutants in the power sector by 60% by 2020, the cabinet announced on Wednesday, after world leaders met in Paris to address climate change. China will also reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power generation by 180m tonnes by 2020, the official People’s Daily website said. It did not give comparison figures or elaborate how it would achieve the result.

Paris climate talks: Indian officials accuse OECD of exaggerating climate aid
A row has broken out at the Paris climate talks as Indian officials accused one of the world’s leading thinktanks of exaggerating the amount of money given to poor countries to help them cope with global warming. In a recent report, the OECD said that developed countries had mobilised $57bn of climate aid in 2013-14. But a paper published last week by the Indian ministry of economic affairs said the OECD – known as the “rich man’s club” because it is funded by the world’s 23 richest countries – was “deeply flawed” and only “partially correct at best” .

French foreign minister tells Paris climate summit negotiators to pick up the pace
France’s top diplomat Laurent Fabius, presiding over 195-nation talks for a UN climate pact, urged negotiators on Wednesday to pick up the pace so as to finish the job by 11 December. “My message is clear: we must accelerate the process because there is still a lot of work to do,” he told journalists on the sidelines of the UN conference in Paris’ northern outskirts.

James Hansen: emissions trading won’t work, but my global ‘carbon fee’ will
Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen has called for a global “carbon fee” in which fossil fuels are taxed when they are produced or imported, rather than when they are consumed. Under his proposal, countries would collect a fee when fossil fuels are mined or imported, and distribute the revenue to their citizens, while charging extra border duties to countries without a similar scheme. Attending a United Nations climate summit for the first time, Hansen – widely credited as the first scientist to raise mainstream political concerns about climate change – says he has little faith in the climate targets and emissions trading schemes currently on the table in Paris.

Only half of West Europeans have heard of COP21
What do people in Europe think about COP21, the big climate change conference happening now in Paris? Have they even heard of it? You might be surprised to find that despite all the attention the conference appears to have been getting, half of Europeans questioned were unaware it was happening.

Energy and Climate Change

Solar, wind power output to surpass shale in five years, says Goldman
New solar and wind capacity additions between 2015 and 2020 will add more power globally than U.S. shale-oil production did during 2010-2015, according to a new report by Goldman Sachs. A new equity research report published this week by U.S. investment bank Goldman Sachs examines the low carbon economy and forecasts solar PV and onshore wind will add more to the global energy supply over the next five years than U.S. shale managed over the previous five.

Paris talks: NZ’s electricity industry reluctant to flick the switch on fossil fuels
Eighty per cent of New Zealand’s electricity is generated from renewable sources that don’t emit greenhouse gases. But Kiwis probably shouldn’t expect any pat on the back from world leaders who are meeting in Paris to agree cuts to carbon emissions. The figure reflects the almost unparalleled quality of the country’s hydro, geothermal and wind energy resources.  European countries have battled to trim their carbon emissions by subsidising the construction of wind farms miles out to sea or on becalmed central European plateaus. In contrast, New Zealand has been able to leave green electricity production to the free market.  Until now, at least.

Advanced Infrared Camera Can Photograph Methane
A new camera has eliminated the guesswork about where greenhouse gases are being emitted. It can photograph and film methane. This technology has been released by a team of researchers from Linköping and Stockholm Universities who have demonstrated how this remarkably advanced camera can record methane in the air around us.

Australian shared solar technology targets untapped rental market
Australian tech startup, Matter, has launched a technology that aims to give Australia’s 2.4 million rented households to access solar power. The technology, called Digital Solar, allows landlords to install rooftop solar and operate it like a micro-utility by selling the solar generated energy back to their tenants at a cheaper rate than power from the grid.

New Australian coal mines threaten world’s chance to stay below 2°C
Australian coal exports could fuel plans to build thousands of new coal fired power stations around the world which threaten to undermine national commitments to reduce carbon emissions made at the Paris climate summit and take global emissions beyond the 2°C limit to avoid catastrophic climate change. An expert analysis, released today by a group of four research organisations known as Climate Action Tracker (CAT), found that emissions from new coal fired power plants could take emissions from the sector 400% higher than levels needed to stay below 2°C.

Botswana sells fracking rights in national park
The Botswana government has quietly sold the rights to frack for shale gas in one of Africa’s largest protected conservation areas, it has emerged. The Kgalagadi transfrontier park, which spans the border with South Africa, is an immense 3 6,000 sq km wilderness, home to gemsbok desert antelope, black-maned Kalahari lions and pygmy falcons. But conservationists and top park officials – who were not informed of the fracking rights sale – are now worried about the impact of drilling on wildlife.

Weather Extremes

Marlborough drought continues with El Nino conditions
Water will be weighing heavily on the minds of farmers and winegrowers as Blenheim comes off its driest November since records began.  The drought conditions, which began last July, have continued this year because of an El Nino weather pattern, which causes less rainfall in the east of New Zealand. Weather statistics from the Blenheim Meteorological Station, at the Marlborough Research Centre, show it was the driest November since statistics were first recorded in 1930. The total rainfall for the month was 2.8 millimetres, or just 6 per cent of the long-term average.

Tasmanian farmers urged to plan ahead for summer after driest spring on record
Automated irrigation systems and drought-resistant crops are among planning measures put forward to Tasmanian farmers experiencing unseasonably dry conditions. The state has experienced its driest spring on record which has forced some farmers to sell livestock and reduce crop plantings.

Southern India hit by floods after heaviest rainfall in more than a century
The heaviest rainfall in more than a century has caused massive flooding across the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, driving thousands of people from their homes, shutting down factories and paralysing the airport in the state capital, Chennai. The national weather office predicted three more days of torrential downpours in the state with a population of nearly 70 million people.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Paris UN Climate Conference 2015: $1Tln in funds exit fossil fuels in 10 weeks
More than 100 institutions controlling $US800 billion ($1.09 trillion) in funds worldwide have opted to make new divestments of at least some of their fossil fuel assets in the 10 weeks running up to the Paris climate summit, according to campaign groups and Divest-Invest. The tally brings to $US3.4 trillion the amount of funds under management by firms that support at least a partial sell-off of their holdings of coal, oil or other fossil fuels. The latest to sign up range from the City of Melbourne to the parliament of the summit hosts, France.

Environment and Biodiversity

The spectacular peacock spider dance and its strange evolutionary roots
With their flamboyant dress, and fabulous song and dance routines, tiny peacock spiders have captivated the hearts of the internet. Many species have courtship displays, but few are as complex as that of the peacock spider. But why does this little Casanova put on such a spectacular show, particularly when we’d expect evolution to favour simplicity? We set up an elaborate experiment to find out. But before we raise the curtain on that, we need to set the scene.

Top 10 potential threats facing nature in cities
With her colleagues at Auckland University’s School of Biological Sciences, Dr Stanley brought together experts from Australia, the UK and New Zealand to identify current trends and new technologies that pose the biggest threat to urban ecosystems. Their study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, pointed to growing evidence the natural world was a benefit to human health and well-being, particularly if more of us were going to be living in cities in the future.

Pest-free Wellington spreads beyond fence
NEW ZEALAND – Replacing the rats in your backyard with kaka chicks simply needs one in five of your neighbours to get on board. Bird lovers can now look to Crofton Downs for inspiration after the suburb was declared the first in New Zealand to be pest free after a one-year trapping campaign. Local conservationist Kelvin Hastie said getting one in five houses to sign up was key to leaving pests nowhere to hide. Before his project started, the IT worker drew a grid over Crofton Downs with heavy protection around the borders of Ngaio and Wadestown.

WA ‘super coral’ more resistant to bleaching, but still hit by rising sea temperatures\
So-called “Super coral” in Western Australia’s north is more resistant to fluctuations in temperature, providing researchers with hope they may recover faster from bleaching events linked to global warming. A paper, published in Nature Scientific Reports, examined the resistance levels in the hardy coral found in WA’s Kimberley region, by simulating rising sea water temperatures that are predicted to occur by the end of this century. The researchers found that while some organisms had a higher resilience due to the area’s extreme environment, they will still be susceptible to bleaching from global warming.

Anglers have helped detect a shift in the habitat of black marlin
We know that climate change is driving changes in the world’s oceans. Currents are shifting, temperatures are climbing and the availability and dynamics of nutrient upwelling is changing. But the question is whether marine species can adapt at the rate at which these changes are occurring?… With so many species on the move and changes happening so quickly, scientists have enlisted the help of citizen scientists – such as recreational SCUBA divers and fishers – to help record when, where and how often species are sighted. Initiatives such as Redmap have helped scientists identify many tropical species shifting their ranges south.

Economy and Business

Climate talks: rich countries should pay to keep tropical forest trees standing 
We need to reimagine tropical forests as a public utility like electricity, producing a service people and governments, including in the rich world, want to buy. Forests are beautiful ecosystems of living organisms. But like your municipal water services and your local power company, forests provide a stream of services – storing carbon and cooling the planet – that most people get for free. Just as we pay for electricity services, and thus ensure their continuing provision, so we – especially in the rich world – should pay for the climate service that tropical forests provide.

Why corporate sustainability won’t solve climate change
In the run-up to the much-anticipated COP21 international climate summit in Paris, business leaders worldwide have shown substantial support for action on greenhouse gases (GHG)… This beehive of corporate activity represents a transformation in corporate attitudes and practices over the last couple of decades. At a recent talk at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, Rachel Kyte, World Bank group vice president and special envoy for climate change, said: “The private sector is at an inflection point; it’s very different than (the 2009 UN climate summit in) Copenhagen. There is an embrace of the science that there was not six years ago. There has also been an extraordinary evolution in the economics; we recognize that the cost of inaction will be brutal.”  Can this “corporate pivot,” in Kyte’s words, save the planet from climate change?

Help! What do clean coal, carbon cuts and dangerous climate change really mean?
Whatever happens at the Paris climate talks, we need to be able to translate the techno-babble into a language that ordinary people can understand.

The ancient art of “moving the goalposts” has always played a central role in public communication around climate change and sustainability. The first rule of climate obfuscation is not to be too blatant, as out-and-out greenwash tends to be challenged pretty quickly. Few were convinced by Shell’s bizarre recent attempt to position fracking as a trendy alternative to conventional fossil fuels. But the smokescreen of complexity and confusion offered by the nebulous concept of “decarbonising” provides ample cover for some more subtle subterfuge.

High in the Andes, A Mine Eats a 400-Year-Old City
Latin America over the past decade has seen its mining sector triple in value to $300 billion. Peru’s economy, among the fastest growing, derives one-sixth of its gross domestic product from minerals. At Cerro de Pasco, you can see the entire history of Peruvian mining —and the costs it sometimes imposes: The mine here is literally consuming the 400-year-old town that supports it. The mine at Cerro de Pasco, Peru, once funneled silver to the Spanish crown. Today, it’s consuming the town—and poisoning children with lead.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Circular Economy – The Forgotten Low-carbon Vector
Much of the discussion at this week’s COP21 summit in Paris will focus on the important topics of renewable energy development, energy efficiency, carbon pricing and the reduction of fossil fuel subsidies. What currently might be under-represented is the circular economy framework, which should be central to the debate given its potential contribution to a low-carbon system.  In the past five years, the circular economy has quickly found growing momentum and increased understanding among business leaders, researchers, policymakers and academics, many of whom see this framework as having the potential to address climate change and its effects.

Politics and Society

Paris UN Climate Conference 2015: The unusual journey of Yeb Sano
Few people in the history of climate conferences have personified the threat of global warming like Yeb Sano, a negotiator from the Philippines who wept openly on the floor of the talks in Warsaw after super typhoon Haiyan devastated his country.

Surreal storm portraits to highlight climate change
Chasing storms across the United States, with only 15 minutes to take the perfect shot. Photographers Benjamin Von Wong and Kelly DeLay set out to create a set of surreal portraits set in front of dramatic storms to highlight the dangers of climate change.

Built Environment

Where is the world’s most polluted city?
Every day, hundreds of millions of people step outside into an environment that has become unsafe for human survival. Outdoor air pollution kills 3.3 million people every year, mostly in cities; more than HIV, malaria and influenza combined. But the search for this insidious mass killer reveals something astonishing. As the governments of more than 190 nations gather in Paris to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change, not only don’t we know where it kills the most, in many places we aren’t even looking.

Improving building efficiency central to a zero-carbon planet
The successful transition to a sustainable energy future depends vitally on the building sector, as more than a third of total energy is consumed in buildings. But, as yet, the large wins to be made in increasing energy efficiency in our homes, businesses and industries have not taken hold. This is changing… The Sustainable Development Goals recognise the importance of buildings and cities in achieving sustainable infrastructure, and building efficiency has hit the agenda at Paris for the first time in the history of the COP.


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