Sustainable Development News

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

The world’s biggest source of freshwater is beneath your feet
You might not give it more than a passing thought, but groundwater is a vital freshwater resource. In Australia alone, the reserves of groundwater help to earn the nation a steady A$34 billion a year from mining, food production and manufacturing… But it’s also a vulnerable resource. Worldwide, about 1.7 billion people live in regions where groundwater is under stress, 60% of them in India and China… We still know very little about this precious resource, particularly about how it may be affected by increasing pressure and a warming world. But scientists are starting to figure out the answers.

Energy and Climate Change

Energy Efficiency Opportunities Program: scrapped by Abbott, now EU law
AUSTRALIA – Less than two years after the Abbott Government shut down the Energy Efficiency Opportunities Program, Europe has begun a very similar scheme, requiring large companies to have energy audits every four years and report on their achievements in driving energy efficiency… An initiative of the Howard Government, the Abbott Government shut down the EEO scheme in mid-2014 even though a 2013 program review by consultants ACIL found that in 2011 it was saving business $800 million a year at an average carbon cost of around minus $95/tonne of carbon avoided and with a benefit–cost ratio of 3.67.

It’s OK to talk about carbon emissions again – views from the Summer Study on Energy Productivity
AUSTRALIA – Finally! After 20 years or so of governments running energy policy as an economic reform divorced from climate policy, it looks like a revolution in thinking has begun, one of major benefit to energy consumers and the global environment.

Environment and Biodiversity

Coral bleaching on Barrier Reef near Lizard Island worst in 15 years, scientists say
The worst coral bleaching in more than 15 years has hit Lizard Island off far north Queensland, scientists say, prompting fears about other northern parts of the Great Barrier Reef.  Lyle Vail, who runs the Lizard Island Research Station north of Cairns, said the majority of the reef flat surrounding the island was showing signs of bleaching.

Monsoon goes missing as Top End swelters through below average wet season
AUSTRALIA – The Northern Territory is sweltering through one of its poorest wet seasons on record. Rainfall data compiled by the Bureau of Meteorology shows a number of regions have received well below their average rainfall from October 1 to February 29.  The low rainfall has combined with a number of high temperature records which were broken in February.

Catalyst: Mercury (Video 17:25)
Australia has beautiful waterways and fishing them is one of our favourite pastimes. Fish is a healthy source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. But is eating our fish safe?

Native fish return to River Murray floodplain after creation of stable water levels
Native fish species are flooding back into the Katarapko wetlands near the River Murray in South Australia’s Riverland. Fish numbers in Eckert Creek, in the floodplain and near the town of Berri, had shrunk due to restricted flows and obstacles. But wetland ecologist Lara Suitor said numbers had grown in the past year after a log crossing was removed and fishways, also known as fish ladders, were installed.

Bird-brained and brilliant: Australia’s avians are smarter than you think
It all starts with the brain. We once believed that small brains equal little thinking, but we now know that this is not true. Just as the smallest computer chips can fit an enormous amount of memory, bird brains can too. This is precisely what was discovered in songbirds by first studying the song control system in the native Australian Zebra Finch.

New flora reserves formed to save remaining south-east New South Wales koalas
AUSTRALIA – Environmentalists are celebrating the announcement of four flora reserves in south-east New South Wales forests that will protect the few remaining koalas in the region. Three entire state forests — Murrah, Mumbulla and Tanja — together with the southern half of Bermagui State Forest have been reclassified as the Murrah Flora Reserves. Announcing the reserves, NSW Minister for the Environment Mark Speakman said the best information he had was that there were only 30 to 60 koalas left on the entire far south coast.

Economy and Business

Al Gore’s green investment firm announces carbon pricing research push
Partnership between Generation Investment Management and Ecofys aims to explore how carbon pricing can facilitate sustainable global economic growth . Environmental consultancy Ecofys is to pair up with the advocacy branch of Al Gore’s sustainable investment firm Generation Investment Management to investigate how carbon pricing can facilitate sustainable global economic growth, the two companies announced today.

One year later: McDonald’s supply chain, sustainability chief Francesca DeBiase
DiBiase assumed her lead sustainability role one year ago today. A Chicago native from an immigrant family, and first in her family to get a college degree, she works now in the C-suite of the iconic brand, overseeing its beef, chicken lettuce and buns — as well as its 2020 Sustainability Framework focused on balanced menu choices, verified sustainable food and packaging, and climate change reduction. DeBiase is also senior vice president of global supply chain sustainability.

Waste and the Circular Economy

New Zealand’s largest worm farm will be in the South Waikato
A scientist has chosen the South Waikato to develop the country’s largest worm farm. A pioneering idea to turn waste from Oji Fibre Solutions, in Kinleith, and Fonterra, in Lichfield, into fertile soil was a “nice fit” for Dr Michael Quintern who owns Mynoke. “We were very pleased they picked up the idea to see the wider picture and trying to support our primary sector, like agriculture, horticulture and forestry,” Quintern said.

The circular economy will put businesses in a spin
The circular economy is having a bit of a moment.  The EU’s wide-ranging circular economy package is winding its way through the corridors of Brussels and, while it almost inevitably will be watered down, in the coming months it will deliver a raft of new resource-related policies and rules.

FloWater Nixes the Need For Plastic Water Bottles
The cost and pollution from the proliferation of plastic bottles throughout the world has led to a flurry of creative efforts from the textile industry to deal with them when they reach end of life… And now there’s another player in the anti-plastic water bottle field: FloWater.

Politics and Society

Climate activists threaten to shut down world’s major coal sites
Climate activists will use direct action to try to shut down major fossil fuel sites across the world in May, including the UK’s largest opencast coal mine in south Wales. The dozen international sites facing civil disobedience from the Break Free 2016 campaign span the globe from the US to Australia and South Africa to Indonesia.

Rio Tinto’s Warkworth coal mine faces fresh legal challenge
Any hopes Rio Tinto might harbour for a quick sale of its Mt Thorley Warkworth coal mine in the Hunter Valley face a setback with residents launching a legal challenge against its lucrative expansion. The Land and Environment Court will hear claims that the Planning and Assessment Commission (PAC) and the Office of Environment and Heritage had failed to correctly apply the biodiversity offsets policy.

Why are so many people still living in flood-prone cities?
Over the last 30 years, floods have killed more than 500,000 people globally, and displaced about 650m more. In a recent paper published by the Centre for Economic Performance, we examined why so many people are hit by devastating floods. We looked at 53 large floods, which affected more than 1,800 cities in 40 countries, from 2003 to 2008. Each of these floods displaced at least 100,000 people from their homes.

UK’s wildlife crime unit wins late reprieve from closure
The UK’s national wildlife crime unit (NWCU) has won a late reprieve from closure after the government announced new funding on Tuesday. The specialist unit tackles wildlife crime from the killing of birds of prey and poaching of deer in the UK to the smuggling of endangered reptiles, birds and elephant ivory across the globe. It was set to close at the end of March, but environment minister Rory Stewart announced funding for four years in a statement to parliament.

See What’s Inside This Grisly Warehouse of Wildlife Trafficking
Just outside Denver in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, a beige warehouse stands on the site of a former chemical weapons facility. The building looks unremarkable, but inside it is the largest, most mind-numbing collection ever assembled of wild animals killed to make furniture, coats, upholstery, handbags, carved figurines, and mounted trophy heads.

Built Environment

The NHS is building towns to make us healthier, but it’s no cure for inequality
The National Health Service plans to develop ten “healthy towns” across England, encompassing more than 76,000 new homes and as many as 170,000 residents. With funding from developers and local authorities, the NHS will experiment with fast food-free zones near schools, safe and appealing green spaces, dementia-friendly streets and digital access to GP services, to try to improve the health of local populations.

UK government facing legal action over pollution
The UK government is facing renewed legal action for breaching EU limits of air pollution. The Supreme Court ruled in April that a plan was needed immediately after EU limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) were breached. The government has said that emissions reduction plans have been enacted but the environmental law firm ClientEarth has argued that the action has not been sufficient to protect health. Reprts suggest that the court will back ClientEarth’s claim again unless the government makes the relevant amendments to its environmental policies.

The developing world faces a silent killer. Could a $1 solar light help?
Every day at around 6pm, 40 families living in a remote corner of Andhra Pradesh in southeast India – a 6km walk from the nearest road – would be swallowed by darkness. With no access to electricity, sunset was a non-negotiable curfew going outside was dangerous, people couldn’t cook and children were unable to do their homework. This changed in April 2015 when Liter of Light, a project that transforms plastic bottles into simple solar lights, introduced solar-powered street lamps to the villages.

Number of cyclists up in inner-city Sydney, down in parts of Melbourne, census count shows
There has been a large increase in the number of cyclists in inner-city Sydney but a drop in parts of Melbourne, the latest country-wide visual census on riders has shown. The number of cyclists was counted at more than 900 sites across Australia today to collect data aimed at informing bike policy. It comes as new laws governing cyclists came into effect in New South Wales today, putting in place restrictions on the distance between riders and cars and increased penalties.


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