Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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A switch to ecological farming will benefit health and environment – report
A new approach to farming is needed to safeguard human health and avoid rising air and water pollution, high greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss, a group of 20 leading agronomists, health, nutrition and social scientists has concluded. Rather than the giant feedlots used to rear animals or the uniform crop monocultures that now dominate farming worldwide, the solution is to diversify agriculture and re-orient it around ecological practices, says the report (pdf) by the International panel of experts on sustainable food systems (IPES-Food). The benefits of a switch to a more ecologically oriented farming system would be seen in human and animal health, and improvements in soil and water quality, the report says.

An organic cotton farm near Djembala village in Mali. Intensive farming with excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides has disastrous consequences on human and animal health, and ecosystem, study says. Photograph: Michael Dunlea/Alamy

An organic cotton farm near Djembala village in Mali. Intensive farming with excessive use of fertilisers and pesticides has disastrous consequences on human and animal health, and ecosystem, study says. Photograph: Michael Dunlea/Alamy

Energy and Climate Change

Queensland government doubles large scale solar target
AUSTRALIA – The Queensland government has decided to double its short term large scale solar target, announcing that it will provide long term financial support for up to 120MW of large scale solar farms in a bid to fast-track the sector in the state.

Glencore to close mine, cut 350 jobs
AUSTRALIA – Global miner and commodity trader Glencore will close its Tahmoor coking coal mine in NSW with the loss of 350 jobs because of ongoing coal price weakness. The Swiss company plans to reduce the workforce over the next 18 months and to close the mine by early 2019.

South Korea to shut down coal-fired power plants
The South Korean government is considering closing coal-fired power plants in a bid to address worsening air pollution, according to an announced [sic] on Wednesday. The Office for Government Policy Coordination under the Prime Minister’s Office has been preparing a set of comprehensive measures with the aim of curbing fine dust emissions from old power stations.

Pakistan developing 1.1 GW of new solar power
New solar power projects with a cumulative capacity of over 1 GW are currently being developed in Pakistan, according to the Alternative Energy Development Board (AEDB). Several project developers have signed deals to set up projects in Pakistan and the country is expected to see a significant increase in operational solar capacity in the next 5 years.

Environment and Biodiversity

Spike in Alaska wildfires is worsening global warming, US says
The devastating rise in Alaska’s wildfires is making global warming even worse than scientists expected, US government researchers said on Wednesday. The sharp spike in Alaska’s wildfires, where more than 5 million acres burned last year, are destroying a main buffer against climate change: the carbon-rich boreal forests, tundra and permafrost that have served as an enormous carbon sink. Northern wildfires must now be recognised as a significant driver of climate change – and not just a side-effect, according to the report from the US Geological Survey.

Fatal attraction: how street lights prevent moths from pollinating
For centuries, we have observed that artificial sources of light hold a strange fascination for moths. Despite decades of research, we still don’t know the cause of this attraction. Some theories put it down to the way moths navigate; others think it’s a mechanism to help them to escape from perceived danger. But the truth is, little evidence exists to support either of these ideas. Whatever the cause is, research has shown that this deadly attraction may have even more sinister consequences than we first thought. In an open access paper in Global Change Biology, my colleagues and I describe the first evidence which shows that the effects of artificial light on moths may have serious implications for the wider ecosystem.

River Revives After Largest Dam Removal in U.S. History
In August 2014, workers completed the largest dam removal project in U.S. history, as the final part of the 210-foot-high (64-meter-high) Glines Canyon Dam was dismantled on the Elwha River in northwestern Washington State. The multistage project began in 2011 with the blessing of the U.S. National Park Service, which administers the surrounding Olympic National Park. The goal was to remove unneeded, outdated dams and restore a natural river system, with presumed benefits for fish and other wildlife.  Indeed, salmon have already returned to the Elwha after nearly a century of absence, and other fish and marine creatures are thriving.  But the restoration hasn’t just been about the river channel itself, says Anne Shaffer, a marine biologist with the nonprofit Coastal Watershed Institute in nearby Port Angeles, Washington.

The freshly freed Elwha River meanders through a former lakebed. Photograph by JASON JAACKS, National Geographic Creative

The freshly freed Elwha River meanders through a former lakebed. Photograph by JASON JAACKS, National Geographic Creative

Successes and many challenges in Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve
The Maya Biosphere Reserve is a grand experiment in forest management set up in 1990. The reserve has generally succeeded in reducing deforestation and providing sustainable livelihoods, but faces threats from oil development and illegal settlers, as well as drug traffickers, cattle ranchers, and other armed groups.

In defence of zoos: how captivity helps conservation
Modern zoos aim to promote animal conservation, educate people, and support further wildlife research. The three are entwined to ensure the animals are housed to the highest possible standards of welfare. Staff are dedicated to providing species-specific housing, appropriate diets and husbandry to ensure that the animals’ lives are as natural as possible within captivity.

What dragonflies say about our ignorance of the natural world
Of the 8.7 million species of animals, plants and fungi thought to live on Earth, we have only named 1.2 million: 86% of the natural world is uncharted. For most people, both this incredible richness and our ignorance are hard to fathom… What’s worse, the habits and status of only 80 000 species are known well enough to really assess our impact on them. Of those, 29% risk extinction.

Blocks and flocks: why are some bird species so successful in cities?
Life in the city can be stressful – for birds just as much as people. For humans, cities are expressly designed to put roofs over heads and food within easy reach, but the opposite can be true for many urban birds. They can find food and shelter harder to come by in the concrete jungle – with some notable exceptions. For any species in any habitat, survival is about problem-solving and adapting to the environment. So what street smarts do city birds need? And why do some species, such as lorikeets, crows and ravens, seem to dominate our urban landscapes?

Smart kaka – can you teach old parrots new tricks?
Parrots and crows are the brains of the bird world and New Zealand’s feisty mountain parrot, the kea, regularly excels at intelligence tests. But what about its forest cousin, the kaka? Is it just as smart, and what are its problem-solving abilities? To find out, Julia Loepelt, a PhD student studying the cognitive development of kaka at Victoria University of Wellington, enlisted more than a hundred willing volunteers – wild kaka, aged from 4 months to 13 years, that willingly took part in her experiments in return for a few cashew nuts.

In the string pulling experiment the kaka have to get at a cashew nut suspended on a long piece of string. There were a number of ways of solving this problem, including hanging upside down. Photo: Judi Miller / Zealandia

In the string pulling experiment the kaka have to get at a cashew nut suspended on a long piece of string. There were a number of ways of solving this problem, including hanging upside down. Photo: Judi Miller / Zealandia

Fight to save Great Barrier Reef could cost billions, secret government modelling estimates
Secret Queensland Government modelling obtained by the ABC estimates it could cost up to $16 billion to meet water quality targets over the next decade to help save the Great Barrier Reef. This figure dwarfs the funding commitments of both the major parties for fighting pollution in the reef. The initial costings, which were formulated by an independent group of economic and water quality experts, were originally meant to be included in the final report of the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce released last week. But the modelling was left out so it could be properly reviewed and tested. It is expected to be finished by next month.

Moreton Bay’s mud problem threatening sea life, could drive away dugongs, turtles
Moreton’s Bay’s iconic sea life is being threatened by an increasing amount of mud settling in the water, Brisbane researchers say. A survey conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Queensland has found the area of mud in the bay has more than doubled in the past 45 years. It now covers 800 square kilometres or more than 50 per cent of the bay’s floor — a significant jump from the 400 square kilometres observed during the last major survey in 1970.

Hidden housemates: springtails are everywhere, even in your home
You’ve probably never heard of them, let alone seen them, but it’s likely you have some in your home. Springtails are only 1-2 mm long but are ubiquitous, found in every habitat except the oceans.

Dozens of frozen tiger cubs found in Thai temple amid trafficking fears
Bangkok: Thai wildlife authorities have found 40 tiger cubs in a freezer in Thailand’s infamous Tiger Temple as they removed live animals in response to international pressure over suspected trafficking and abuse.

Economy and Business

Activating on the SDGs: How Business-Driven Sustainability Will Change the World
With more than 80 percent of S&P 500 companies now issuing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability report (according to the Governance & Accountability Institute), sustainability is becoming business mainstream. Companies are going beyond just reporting their financial, social and environmental results. They are now integrating sustainability practices into their operations.

Bold goals at CEM7: Philips projects 2 billion LEDs sold
Energy ministers from around the world converged with business and NGO leaders and entrepreneurs in downtown San Francisco Wednesday for the first day of the Clean Energy Ministerial 7th gathering (CEM7) to figure out how to transition the world to clean energy. It was entrepreneurs and businesses that got things going. To begin delivering on CEM’s “global lighting challenge” to deploy energy-efficient lighting worldwide, Philips Lighting announced it aims tol sell 2 billion LED light bulbs — an electricity savings equal to taking 60 coal-fired power plants offline — in the next five years.

Attention, Change Agents: How to Help Shape Your CEO’s Sustainability Decisions
It’s no secret that your CEO’s level of commitment to sustainability can have a huge impact on your organization’s sustainability journey. That’s why we decided to speak with over 100 CEOs, board members, and sustainability executives from a range of global companies, to try to understand the factors that influence CEO leadership and decision making around sustainability — and how corporate sustainability change agents can help support that process. Here are a few of the interesting things we learned

US adopts near total ban on commercial ivory trade
Barack Obama imposed a near total ban on the commercial trade in elephant ivory on Thursday in an effort to choke off smuggling networks and end the slaughter of African wildlife. The US Fish and Wildlife Service rules ban the sale of elephant ivory across state lines, and deepen restrictions on international ivory sales. Under the new rules, only antique items more than 100 years old – such as a figurines or chess pieces – or objects containing relatively small amounts of ivory, such as pianos and other musical instruments, will be legal for sale.

Solo Driving Decreased 42% At Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
An employee program has helped reduce solo driving at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has its headquarters in downtown Seattle. Almost 90% of employees there drove solo to work in 2010, but after a program was implemented in 2011, that number dropped to 42%, and it decreased from that point as well. The program was established to make employees aware of their transportation options and to provide incentives to them to utilize them, rather than only driving solo. Some of the incentives were $3 daily payments for employees who used alternative transportation, passes for ferries and trains, and charging for employee parking.

Waste and the Circular Economy

ThreeC: Creating Competencies for a Circular Economy
Educators have trouble deciding which kind of didactical strategies are effective in preparing young people for their active role in a circular economy, let alone how this learning could be assessed. In search of answers to these questions, an inquiry into circular economy competencies and didactics begun. In 2014, a group of secondary and vocational schools, educational organisations and teacher training institutes, started a European project linking Circular Economy and education, called ThreeC: Creating Competencies for a Circular Economy. Following that inquiry, 15 schools in 5 European countries ran pilot projects with their student community, led by a range of intriguing questions.

How the circular economy boosts biodiversity
Circular economy or closed loop systems are, depending on who you ask, merely grandiloquent terms for recycling or the next best thing to address the impact of industrial processes on the planet. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a leading voice on circularity, presents the various schools of thought on the concept with a diversity of approaches to circularity, some of which are more transactional than others.

Microplastics killing fish before they reach reproductive age, study finds
Fish are being killed, and prevented from reaching maturity, by the litter of plastic particles finding their way into the world’s oceans, new research has proved. Some young fish have been found to prefer tiny particles of plastic to their natural food sources, effectively starving them before they can reproduce. The growing problem of microplastics – tiny particles of polymer-type materials from modern industry – has been thought for several years to be a peril for fish, but the study published on Thursday is the first to prove the damage in trials.

Can a late harvest help the hungry? (Article + Audio  26:27)
Every year in New Zealand more than $800 million worth of good food goes to waste while families in need go without. At a time when lines for food banks seem to be growing longer, what can be done to help? Auckland food rescue organisation KiwiHarvest thinks it has a solution. Each day its vans head out to bakeries and supermarkets across the Supercity where they load up on good, unused food before delivering it to 50 charity groups. The organisation has only been operating since February 2015 but has already delivered more the 270,000 meals made from what they describe as ‘fresh, high quality food’.  Spectrum producer Justin Gregory spent a day on the delivery route to find out how much it is helping.

Politics and Society

Photos: the people of Indonesia’s marine protected areas
Indonesia: a vast archipelago, the world’s largest maritime nation, home to the richest marine biodiversity — but in danger of being wrecked by overfishing and other unsustainable practices. That’s why the country has pledged to establish 20 million hectares of marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2020. Like their terrestrial counterparts, these national parks of the sea often have large human populations, and the restrictions they impose can result in the marginalization of local communities that rely on the seas and coasts for their livelihoods.

Cosmos Sirkin is part of a crab fishing cooperative in Kei Kecil, an island in Indoneisa’s Maluku province. WWF-Indonesia is helping Sirkin’s group set sustainable harvest guidelines and keep catch data.

Cosmos Sirkin is part of a crab fishing cooperative in Kei Kecil, an island in Indoneisa’s Maluku province. WWF-Indonesia is helping Sirkin’s group set sustainable harvest guidelines and keep catch data.

Unclear about fairness, Australia’s major parties focus on expediency
Both of Australia’s major parties have variously used “fairness” to describe key policies and in their election pitches… The only problem with an appeal to fairness is there is no single understanding of what the word means. In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt distinguished between two fundamentally different ways in which the word fairness is used. For people on the Left, fairness means equality, ensuring goods are distributed so the poor and disadvantaged are helped. For the Right, fairness means proportionality. This means if someone does the work and puts in the effort, they should be rewarded accordingly.

Labor seeks to thrust renewable energy onto centre stage
AUSTRALIA – Federal Labor has finally put some meat on the bones of its proposed renewable energy target, with the release of some policy detail into how it plans to drive the shift to 50 per cent renewables by 2030. The ALP said on Thursday that a Labor government would award long term power purchase agreements to ensure that the Commonwealth government lift its share of renewables for its own electricity needs to 50 per cent by 2030.

At least 33 US cities used water testing ‘cheats’ over lead concerns
At least 33 cities across 17 US states have used water testing “cheats” that potentially conceal dangerous levels of lead, a Guardian investigation launched in the wake of the toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has found. Of these cities, 21 used the same water testing methods that prompted criminal charges against three government employees in Flint over their role in one of the worst public health disasters in US history.

How to beat your wife ‘lightly’, according to Pakistan’s Islamic council
Pakistan’s Council of Islamic Ideology has sparked outrage across the country and around the world for suggesting it should be permissible for men to “lightly beat” their wives. In leaked documents the council said it’s appropriate for wives to be lightly beaten for refusing sex, speaking loudly or dressing inappropriately.

This Ultra-Sustainable Public School Will Have Its Own Urban Farm
In a couple of years, when third graders at a Chicago school go to math or science class, they may head outside to the school’s new urban farm. The Academy for Global Citizenship, a public charter school that serves 90% minority students in a Southwest Chicago neighborhood, is building a new campus with a three-acre farm and renewable systems that produce more power than the school will use. The school is already the first in the Chicago public system to serve 100% organic food, made from scratch by an on-site chef. When the new farm is completed, many of the ingredients will come directly from the gardens outside.

Built Environment

Has the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge benefited Melbourne?
AUSTRALIA – The selection of Melbourne to participate in the international 100 Resilient Cities program sponsored by the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation generated a mix of hopes, expectations and concerns. In a report released today, researchers assessing the program found a surprising degree of co-operation among the city’s many local councils. The result is the Resilient Melbourne Strategy, adopted this month, which marks a shift towards “whole-of-city” thinking.

Queensland bankrolls council projects that mitigate effects of rising sea levels
AUSTRALIA – The Queensland Labor government will bankroll projects by coastal councils to mitigate the effects of rising sea levels, less than two years after its Liberal National predecessor banned mentions of climate change impacts from planning policy. The Palaszczuk government has set up a modest $12m fund, launching it in Redcliffe, north of Brisbane, which it said was “one of the communities on the frontline in the battle against the worst predicted effects” of rising sea levels.

Food Systems

The dark side of China’s foreign fishing boom
Since 1985, China has grown from a bit player in the world’s fisheries into far and away its most dominant force. Today, the country — whose annual catch of some 15 million tons makes it the world’s top fisher twice over —  commands a chart-topping DWF fleet of 3,400 ships spread over 93 countries. By comparison, the U.S., the world’s third-largest fisher, maintains just 200 ships.

China launches action plan to combat soil pollution
China released a new action plan on Tuesday aimed at curbing soil pollution by 2020 and improving soil quality by 2030. China’s central government will create a dedicated fund to tackle soil pollution, as well as a separate fund to help upgrade technology and equipment in the heavy metal sector, according to a statement from the cabinet.

MPs sound alarm on neglected soils
Ministers are failing to protect Britain’s soils on farmland and in cities, MPs say.  The Commons Environmental Audit Committee warns that tracts of polluted soil are a potential health hazard in many towns because the government has stopped grants to decontaminate them. And agricultural carbon emissions are said to be growing because careless farming allows soil to blow away. The government said it was protecting soils, but would review the new report.

A large gully opens up in a potato field, post-harvest. John Boardman.

A large gully opens up in a potato field, post-harvest. John Boardman.



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