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 Top Predators Are Dining From Dwindling Menus
This is a story about large predators and cascading consequences, featuring two scientists named Wolf and Ripple, because sometimes life just hands you treats like that.

A female lion chases a zebra in Tanzania's Serengeti National Park. Photograph by Mitsuaki Iwago, Minden Pictures/National Geographic

A female lion chases a zebra in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. Photograph by Mitsuaki Iwago, Minden Pictures/National Geographic

Energy and Climate Change

Good news: Energy usage falls while global economy grows
The amount of coal, oil, gas and renewable energy used by the global economy is falling quickly, a clear sign that economic growth is having less of an impact on climate change than in the past, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Energy. The measure of the amount of energy that is used per unit of gross domestic product is known as energy intensity, and it’s an important indicator in the progress countries are making in tackling climate change. Globally, energy intensity has fallen 30 percent since 1990 and about 2 percent between 2014 and 2015.

5 Key Takeaways From Alarming New Climate Report
An annual report that is sometimes called the planet’s “physical” finds that 2015 was the warmest year since at least the mid to late 19th century. The year also marked several other milestones, from a record carbon concentration to an unusual number of tropical storms. The 26th report, State of the Climate in 2015, released online today by the American Meteorological Society (AMS), was compiled by hundreds of scientists from 62 countries and was peer reviewed.

New York regulators issue 50% by 2030 clean energy mandate
The New York Public Service Commission has approved the state’s previously announced Clean Energy Standard, which requires that utilities procure 50 per cent of their electricity from clean energy sources by 2030. Under this standard, New York is tied with California for the third-most aggressive renewable energy mandate in the United States, after Hawaii (100% by 2045) and Vermont (75% by 2032).

$US1 billion energy storage market predicted for Germany by 2021
A new report from GTM Research forecasts that the energy storage market in Germany will have an annual value exceeding USD1 billion by 2021, as a collection of factors feed the market’s growth within the country.

Household battery storage costs: So near and yet so far
AUSTRALIA – SolarQuotes has done a great job putting together data on 28 different household storage systems on the market to date. The data shows a median capital cost of $9000 or $1800 per usable KWh (kilowatt hour), which translates to $0.39 of cost for every delivered KWh of electricity. We expect competition to really drive price. We think the installed base is less than 5000 grid connected systems, but based on Enphase orders expect that to explode to over 50,000 within the next 18 months.

The solution to Australia’s gas crisis is not more gas
Concern about higher and more volatile gas prices in southern and eastern Australia is spreading. Recent gas price spikes in South Australia have impacted on electricity prices and raised concerns about future prices for industry and households. Average gas prices for large industrial consumers rose by 60% between 2010 and 2015, while household prices climbed by 20%… Many are proposing the obvious, but wrong, solution: develop more gas production resources. But this path fails for several reasons.

Grid-scale battery storage ready to go in Australia: Garnaut
Leading Australian economist and energy policy advisor Ross Garnaut has called for the adoption of grid-scale battery storage on Australia’s National Electricity Market, which he says would provide an “immediate” solution to integrating increasing amounts of grid-connected wind and solar and preventing future electricity price spikes.

The new green grid: utilities deploy ‘virtual power plants’
By linking together networks of energy-efficient buildings, solar installations, and batteries, a growing number of companies in the US and Europe are helping utilities reduce energy demand at peak hours and supply targeted areas with renewably generated electricity.

Environment and Biodiversity

‘An optimistic place to start’: Myanmar enacts national logging ban
Rumors that have been building for months have come to fruition, with Myanmar announcing a national logging ban effective immediately. Although temporary, conservationists are lauding the ban, which will run until the end of March 2017. Myanmar has seen an uptick in deforestation in recent years, with satellite data from the University of Maryland showing the country lost nearly 5 percent (2 million hectares) of its tree cover from 2001 through 2014… According to environmental watchdogs, overexploitation of Myanmar’s forests have been driven by corruption and mismanagement in the country’s timber industry sector. They say the new ban is a big step in the right direction.

Wealthier homes contain more bugs, research shows
Homes in wealthier areas harbour more bugs, containing up to 200 different species of flies, spiders, beetles and ants, according to new research. The vast majority are not pests although dust mites and book lice were also common. The finding is the latest demonstration of the “luxury effect” which has shown that richer neighbourhoods are more biologically diverse in plants, birds, bats and lizards, largely thanks to the greater number and variety of plants in gardens and parks. But it is the first time the effect has been shown for arthropods, either inside or outside homes.
See also: Wealthier Homes Have More Kinds of Bugs | Nat Geo

From nostrils to crocodile blood – ten surprising places to look for antibiotics
One in ten people’s noses contain bacteria that could be the source of a powerful new antibiotic, German scientists say. Even resistant superbugs, such as MRSA and vancomycin-resistant enterococci, died when exposed to this new compound, lugdunin… So academics hunting for new drugs in unusual places such as human “snot” are on the right track. Here are ten more surprising places scientists are looking for antibiotics, from ants and cow stomachs to medieval libraries and snake blood.

Economy and Business

Understand 21st century supply chains in 3 charts
When you think about pollution, it may conjure up images of deforestation, belching power plants and traffic jams. However, while industries from construction to transportation are responsible for huge carbon footprints, consumer goods account for 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The good news: Major brands are taking a closer look at their network of suppliers, manufacturers and distributors. That’s according to the Sustainability Consortium’s recent 2016 Impact Report: Greening Global Supply Chains: From Blindspots To Hotspots To Action (PDF).

Setting the Bar High Enough, Part 2: What Exactly Is a Science-Based Target?
To put it simply, a carbon emissions target is defined as science-based if it is in line with the scale of reductions required to keep global temperature increase below 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures… In less simple terms, science-based targets involve allocating a proportion of the required global emissions-reduction targets to an individual company in a fair and transparent way. This requires some serious thinking, as there are a range of factors that must be considered in setting the target.

My super, my future: Australians put their money where their morals are
Most of us probably spend more time considering the origins of our coffee or the happiness of the chickens that laid our eggs than our superannuation. But for many, super is the second biggest investment we will ever make. Only those fortunate enough to buy a house make a bigger investment. This is a problem. The two trillion dollars in super funds slushing around the economy is shaping the social and environmental outlook of our country.

The mega-trends affecting retail sustainability: part 1
Responsible consumption brands – organic, natural, ecological, local and fair trade – have moved from a niche category to a driving force in Europe’s grocery industry, according to the Boston Consulting Group. Its 2015 comprehensive study on the factors driving growth in the fast-moving consumer goods space found the majority of growth came from products with “socially responsible overlays”, and companies should be taking note.

Wooden surfboards to mushroom handplanes: the surf companies tackling ocean waste – gallery
Ocean waste is a serious problem for companies emotionally and physically connected to the sea, said the founder of outdoor clothing company Finisterre in a recent Guardian debate, but that connection also gives them a strong incentive to find solutions. Here we profile some of the companies doing just that.

Neoprene-free wetsuit with recycled lining

Neoprene-free wetsuit with recycled lining
This week, outdoor clothing brand Patagonia – in partnership with speciality materials company Yulex – is launching its neoprene-free wetsuit range. Building on its reputation for sustainable design, the company has removed the traditional petroleum-based material from its wetsuits and replaced it with plant-based natural rubber. What’s more, the lining is made from scrap materials sourced from waste plastics. Photograph: Patagonia

New real estate agency to donate 20 per cent of commission to charity
AUSTRALIA – What’s happening to our real estate agents this year? Earlier it was a social enterprise that gave all profits to build affordable housing for in-need women, now it’s an agency promising to pledge 20 per cent of its commission to charity. Radley Property, which was launched last week, was created to get on board with the growing number of social enterprises and “profit with purpose” businesses.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The mega-trends to watch out for in waste and recycling
Ahead of this year’s Australasian Waste & Recycling Expo, four industry experts share their views on innovation, best practice and future mega-trends in waste and recycling, both in Australia and abroad.

Politics and Society

Don’t panic – the end of DECC could be good news
UK – I was at DECC when it was formed, working as a civil servant under Ed Miliband, its first Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. So I know more than most the positive contribution it made to government policy. But while I know many people in the environment and business community were dismayed to hear that DECC is no more, it could in fact be a positive, progressive move.

Reimagining NSW: tackling education inequality with early intervention and better research
AUSTRALIA – Politicians are fond of paying lip service to the idea that education lifts people out of poverty and benefits society as a whole. But how can governments translate that idea into policy that gives taxpayers the best bang for their buck? The answer, we think, lies in improving the educational opportunities of children from disadvantaged backgrounds – and the focus should start in pre-school. We also need better ways of knowing what works; we need better independent, evidence-based research evaluating the impact of education policies. It’s not just the fair thing to do; a large body of evidence also suggests this strategy could deliver better economic returns on investment for NSW and Australia.

The tiny home movement: a creative response to the US homelessness crisis
Nationwide, the number of homeless people in the US decreased by 11% between 2010 and 2015. Matthew Doherty, the executive director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), attributes the decline to a shift towards stronger, evidence-based policies that emphasize a “housing first” approach.

Built Environment

Appalling energy efficiency results revealed for London’s buildings
Despite London’s world-class status, exorbitant property values and all the foreign cash flowing into its property market, over a third of its non-domestic buildings and a quarter of its homes have the lowest energy efficiency ratings. The revelation comes from a survey of Energy Performance Certificates, the official way of measuring the energy efficiency of buildings in the UK, that have been issued in the last six years, undertaken by the Association for the Conservation of Energy.


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