Sustainable Development News

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

DOE charts show why climate doom and gloom isn’t needed
A new report from the US Department of Energy paints a bright picture for our prospects to cut carbon pollution and prevent the most dangerous levels of climate change. The report looked at recent changes in costs and deployment of five key clean energy technologies: wind, residential solar, utility-scale solar, batteries, and LED bulbs. For each technology, costs fell between 41% and 94% from 2008 to 2015… This new DOE report highlights the fact that clean energy technology is quickly moving in the right direction, toward lower costs and higher deployment.

Cost reductions in five key clean technologies since 2008. Illustration: US Department of Energy

Cost reductions in five key clean technologies since 2008. Illustration: US Department of Energy

Read also: Chart of the year: ‘Incredible’ price drops jumpstart clean energy revolution

Energy and Climate Change

EU gives green light to ratifying Paris climate deal
EU ministers have agreed to ratify the landmark Paris climate agreement at an extraordinary summit in Brussels on Friday, all but guaranteeing that it will pass a legal threshold to take effect next week and sparing the bloc’s blushes in the process. The European Parliament is expected to rubber stamp the decision in Strasbourg next Tuesday, allowing the EU to sign off on it as soon as the following day.

World’s third largest emitter India formally joins Paris agreement on climate change, UN says
India, the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has formally joined the Paris agreement on tackling climate change, the United Nations said, taking the global pact a step closer to its enactment.

Reservoirs are a major source of global greenhouse gases, scientists say
[A] new paper, slated to be published next week in BioScience, confirms a  significant volume of greenhouse gas emissions coming from a little-considered place: Man-made reservoirs, held behind some 1 million dams around the world and created for the purposes of electricity generation, irrigation, and other human needs. In the study, 10 authors from U.S., Canadian, Chinese, Brazilian, and Dutch universities and institutions have synthesized a considerable body of prior research on the subject to conclude that these reservoirs may be emitting just shy of a gigaton, or billion tons, of annual carbon dioxide equivalents. That would mean they contributed 1.3 percent of the global total.

German cities introduce ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’
Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein in Germany have embarked upon a project to achieve a fully sustainable energy supply after hitting 2025’s renewable energy targets nine years early. The Northern German cities, with a combined population of 4.5 million people, have already achieved Germany’s ambitious targets of obtaining 40 per cent of their energy from renewables on an annual basis. Both cities now aim to hit 70 per cent renewables by 2025 and 100 per cent by 2035, using the “NEW 4.0” project initiative to do so.

UK solar firm challenges Australian utilities with big solar plans
AUSTRALIA – A leading UK-based solar farm developer has received approval for its first 140MW solar farm in Queensland, and intends to bypass Australia’s major electricity utilities and sell the output from its growing portfolio of projects to the spot market. Eco Energy World Australia says it received planning consent last week for the Aramara solar farm near Maryborough, on Queensland’s Fraser Coast. But it won’t be waiting for a contract, or power purchase agreement from a utility; instead, it intends to begin construction within a few months and sell the output directly to the market.

Urth Energy offers variable wholesale price for household solar exports
Australian solar households and businesses are being offered a new product by a boutique electricity retailer that will allow them to sell their excess power back to the grid at wholesale rates rather than fixed rates… Average wholesale prices around Australia tend to be around 5c-8c/kWh, although the component on most people’s electricity bill is higher than that to allow for a “margin” for the retailer. But wholesale price during the day time can often be higher, and if the household can target its exports to peak periods, by managing its usage, then it could obtain a significant higher tariff.

South Australia seeks to put ’emissions intensity’ trading scheme in play
The South Australian government expects a special meeting of energy ministers scheduled for Friday to examine the factors behind last week’s power blackouts in the state will also canvas whether there should be a national “emissions intensity” trading scheme for the electricity sector. South Australia has been pushing for the adoption of a national scheme that would work as a form of emissions trading for the electricity sector. Generators would be penalised for polluting above an emissions-intensity baseline, to help drive an orderly transition to low-emissions energy sources.

Environment and Biodiversity

Bid for strongest protection for all African elephants defeated at wildlife summit
Cites meeting blocks proposal for ban on all trade of ivory from four southern African countries with stable or increasing elephant populations – but passes other vital conservation measures… Most African elephants already have the highest level of international legal protection – a Cites “appendix 1” listing – which bans all trade. But the elephants in Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana, are listed on “appendix 2”, a lower level of protection. On Monday a proposal to add the elephants in Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana to appendix 1 was defeated.

There are our carbon emissions — and then, there are the ones the Earth will punish us with
The really scary thing about climate change is not simply that humans may fail to get their emissions under control. It’s that at some point, the Earth could take over and start adding even more emissions on its own. A new study underscores this risk by looking closely at the islands of equatorial Asia, which have a unique quality — some 70 billion of tons of carbon that have built up in peatlands over millennia. In this, equatorial Asia is much like the Arctic, where even larger quantities of ancient carbon are stored in permafrost, and are also vulnerable.

The Pacific blob caused an ‘unprecedented’ toxic algal bloom — and there’s more to come
Last year, a massive toxic algae bloom swept the West Coast, resulting in record-breaking levels of a potentially deadly brain-damaging chemical and closing fisheries from California to British Columbia. Since then, scientists have been investigating the causes of the event — and now, a group of researchers think they’ve figured out how the event, which they term “unprecedented,” happened.

Butterfish is a big problem for little puffins
Eastern Egg Rock is a freezing speck of island that clings to the coast of Maine, north of Boston. It is fringed with a few bushes, has little soil and no supplies of fresh water. Yet this unprepossessing, seven-acre scrap of wave-washed granite is a site of major ecological interest. Thanks to research carried out here, scientists are gleaning invaluable – and alarming – data about the impact of climate change on the planet’s wildlife.

An Eastern Egg Rock Atlantic puffin carries white hake to its fledglings. White hake is long and narrow compared to the butterfish.

An Eastern Egg Rock Atlantic puffin carries white hake to its fledglings. White hake is long and narrow compared to the butterfish.

Plans to boost kiwi numbers above 100k
NEW ZEALAND – Plans to grow the wild kiwi population to more than 100,000 by 2030 have been unveiled by the government… “This plan focuses on growing the wild kiwi population and building on the work achieved under previous plans, rather than steadying or managing decline,” Ms Barry said. Currently there are almost 70,000 kiwi in the wild, with stoats and dogs mainly to blame for a decline of about 2 percent a year.

These are Christchurch’s most polluted streams
NEW ZEALAND – An unassuming section of Christchurch’s Heathcote River has won a dubious honour – it has the city’s unhealthiest water. A recent surface water quality survey by the Christchurch City Council revealed the river met few water quality guidelines. Overall, 98 per cent of the city’s monitored waterways failed at least one guideline for water health, a result consistent with previous years.

MPI won’t disclose importer of banned palm kernel
NEW ZEALAND – The fate of 23,000 tonnes of palm kernel extract is set to be decided in the next couple of days. The MV Molat has been anchored off Tauranga since 6 September, when it was blocked from docking because of problems with paperwork regarding its cargo… MPI border clearance services director Steve Gilbert said the ship had come from a facility that had not been approved by the Malaysian government, which is part of MPI’s requirements to bring palm kernel into the country. He said the importer was applying to discharge the palm kernel but had to prove it was not a biosecurity risk.

Economy and Business

Why the SDGs are leading a global transformation
One year on, have the SDGs — the ambitious goals for global development, agreed to by 195 nations at the UN in September 2015 — made any impact in the world? The answer may surprise you: it’s a resounding “Yes!” There is an explosion of SDG-related activity happening in our world today, in governments, companies, communities, schools and in thousands of civil society-led groups and partnerships all over the planet.

The Big Read: Chinese village clean-tech to the world, where trees die and water is polluted
At night, the pollution around the village has an otherworldly, almost fairy-tale quality. “The air sparkles,” said Zhang Tuling, a farmer in a village in far northeastern China. “When any bit of light hits the particles, they shine.” By daylight, the particles are visible as a lustrous gray dust that settles on everything. It stunts the crops it blankets, begrimes laundry hung outside to dry and leaves grit on food. The village’s well water has become undrinkable, too. Beside the family home is a plot that once grew saplings, but the trees died once the factory began operating, said Zhang’s husband, Yu Yuan.

How alternative finance can offer a better banking future
The UK is the home of Europe’s rapidly-growing alternative finance (or “alt fin”) movement, which is fast becoming a major player in the financial sector. Valued at £3.2 billion in 2015, a big part of its appeal is that we can often know more precisely where our money is and what it is doing. Whereas with mainstream banks, your money is used to fund various investments, often on financial markets that you have no control over, investors in alternative finance projects tend to invest in a specific project.

NZ funds’ $21m ‘dodgy’ palm oil investment
New Zealand’s three largest government investment funds have more than $20 million invested in foreign palm oil companies linked to devastation of Indonesian rainforests.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Six billion plastic bags can’t be wrong – so what do we tax next?
Once, my family’s kitchen cupboard would have contained dozens of plastic bags. But today – a year after the introduction of England’s 5p plastic bag charge – I count just six (three secondhand ones, given to us by other people, one corner-shop bag and two small bags supplied with meat and fish).

Rubbish Recycling?
New Zealand lacks leadership on recycling and companies that use a lot of packaging need to take charge of their environmental footprints, a community recycling advocate says. Gina Dempster, who works with the community recycling initiative, Wanaka Wastebusters, told Nine to Noon that on an individual level, New Zealanders were doing fairly well in terms of recycling. The most room for improvement was at government and corporate levels, and New Zealand could look overseas for inspiration.

Z launches recycling scheme to turn coffee cups into compost
NEW ZEALAND – Petrol station chain Z sells nearly five million coffee cups every year, and now it wants them back – for a good cause. Takeaway coffee cups have been trucked off to landfills in their droves, even those whose users diligently placed them in recycling bins. That is because many of the country’s recycling plants do not have the necessary technology to do the job. The complexity of removing the cups’ inner lining, which is made out of polyethylene (PE), means most are thrown away. More than 70 Z stores have become designated collection points for used coffee cups, limited to areas where commercial composting was available.

How to build a compost shower for free hot water
A heating system developed by a French innovator decades ago is gaining a new life as a sustainable way to get free hot showers in the modern world. The annual build of the compost shower has just been completed at the Fair Harvest Permaculture Farm in Margaret River WA.  The system was developed by French innovator Jean Pain (1930-1981), who used compost to meet all his energy needs.

Politics and Society

What do sugar and climate change have in common? Misplaced scepticism of the science
Why do we think that climate sceptics are irrational? A major reason is that almost none of them have any genuine expertise in climate science (most have no scientific expertise at all), yet they’re confident that they know better than the scientists. Science is hard. Seeing patterns in noisy data requires statistical expertise, for instance. Climate data is very noisy: we shouldn’t rely on common sense to analyse it. We are instead forced to use the assessment of experts.

It’s been 16 years since Leo interviewed a president on climate. And situation is now much worse.
While actor Leonardo DiCaprio will generate plenty of buzz when he speaks with President Obama and atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe on the South Lawn on Monday night, it’s worth noting that this is not the first time the Oscar winner has interviewed an American president about the state of the climate. It’s just that this time, the climate is in much, much worse shape.

Built Environment

Hawke’s Bay’s ‘King Canute’ plans to build seawall to protect 20 more properties
NEW ZEALAND – The man who’s come to be known as Hawke’s Bay’s King Canute wants to extend a seawall that protects his property so it can protect 20 other threatened sections, a move he expects to raise their value by $15 million. Unlike some other properties on the fast-eroding coastline at Haumoana, John Bridgeman’s has stood fast against the best the Pacific Ocean could throw at it, thanks to the two-metre-high concrete wall he built in front of it in 2004. Now, “a bit fed up” with councils taking their time to deal with coastal erosion, the concrete-firm owner, whose family has lived at the property since the 1950s, is developing plans for a similarly constructed wall to run in front of all 21 properties. He owns seven of them.

Food Systems

Big city mayors join palm oil label campaign
The mayors of New Zealand’s four biggest cities have thrown their weight behind a campaign pushing for mandatory labelling of products containing controversial palm oil. Outgoing mayors Len Brown, Celia Wade-Brown and Julie Hardaker, of Auckland, Wellington and Hamilton, along with Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel, have written to Food Safety Minister Jo Goodhew calling for the change ahead of a Food Standards Australia New Zealand meeting next month. Palm oil, derived from the fruit of oil palms, is estimated to be in about half of all products available in supermarkets but can be generally labelled as vegetable oil.

Betting the Farm: Farmers confront climate change
Climate change is here, and Australian agriculture is acutely feeling the effects. Three farmers explain how it’s impacting their lives and livelihoods.


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