Sustainable Development News

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

Creating a food forest
Last time you took a stroll through some of our native bush what did you see? Lots of vegetation no doubt! If you examine any naturally growing bush closer you will find that the bush is made up of different layers of plants. At your feet they may be composting leaves, peaty soil, mushrooms, moss and groundcovers. At chest level you see bushes and shrubs. Above your head you see the canopy of taller trees and vines and epiphytes growing amongst them. These layers together make up a forest and this is the nature-inspired concept to follow when you are planting a food forest.

Energy and Climate Change

Emissions ‘far above’ 2C target
Global plans to curb carbon dioxide are well below what’s needed to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees, according to a new analysis. It is the work of researchers from the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a consortium of research institutions. They examined the commitments already made by governments to limit warming. The CAT rated seven of the 15 submitted carbon plans as “inadequate” to keep temperatures below the accepted level of dangerous warming. The analysis was released at a UN climate negotiation meeting in Bonn aimed at advancing a new global treaty.

Biggest food and drink companies found to be ignoring impact on climate
The vast majority of the world’s biggest food, beverage and tobacco companies are ignoring their largest climate impacts by failing to disclose emissions from agricultural production, according to a new CDP analysis. When talking about the impacts of climate change, few risks are more visceral or tangible than those it poses to future food supply. From spikes in food prices to threats to the coffee industry, consumers are increasingly aware of the effects of rising global average temperatures.

Australia’s new cap on emissions is a trading scheme in all but name
The Australian government has released its final draft for a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. The “safeguard mechanism” will form part of the government’s central climate policy, and will fine large businesses for exceeding emissions baselines. Businesses that produce over 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year will have their emissions capped.

Big business wins ways to increase emissions under Abbott government climate plan
Big business will be afforded several ways to increase their greenhouse gas emissions without penalty under the second plank of the Abbott government’s Direct Action climate change plan. Environment Minister Greg Hunt released on Wednesday draft rules for the government’s promised “safeguard mechanism”, which will set emissions limits, called “baselines”, on big industrial plants and power generators.

National Australia Bank rules out funding Adani’s Carmichael coal mine
National Australia Bank has said it will not fund what would be the biggest coal mine in Australia, Adani’s $16 billion Carmichael coal project, and signalled that it wants to take a leading role in developing renewable energy. While Adani has not approached NAB, and the bank has not done due diligence on the coal project, a NAB spokesperson said the bank “is not involved and has no plans to be involved in any financing of the Carmichael coal mine”. NAB had no appetite to finance the project in its current form, even if it were asked to, sources told Fairfax Media.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

California forces pensions funds to divest from coal, but Future Fund digs in
California has passed a new bill that requires its main public pension funds to divest coal stocks within 18 months – but Australia’s main public super fund says it has no intention of following suit. In California, a 43-27 vote on the bill known as SB185 was enough to ensure the state’s largest public pension funds CalPERS and CalSTRS – with some $US480 billion in funds between them – will have to completely divest from thermal coal within 18 months.


Let’s make sure that cleaning up the world’s water doesn’t send our climate targets down the gurgler
Much of the world still lacks clean, safe water. Progress on sanitation is falling far short of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. The scale of the problem is highlighted by India, where half the population – some 665 million people – still defecate in the open, and where most sewage, even from toilets, is dumped untreated into rivers and streams. Worldwide, contaminated water is implicated in 85% of all illness. An even more pernicious problem with the world’s water is widespread contamination with antibiotics, fuelling the rise of resistant superbugs…

What would it take to end California’s drought?
The excitement about a potentially rain-bearing El Niño is building, and hopes for a swift end to California’s ongoing drought are multiplying. At the same time, many of us who have worked extensively on water issues in the state fear the momentum and progress made on much-needed water reforms will be lost. The prospect of a rainy year raises the question: what would it take for the drought to be over? The answer to that question turns out to be more complex than it might seem.

Live Q&A: What does an action agenda on water policy look like?
What is the best way to get action on the problem of the global freshwater shortage – one of the most pressing challenges facing the world today? The global water crisis has already made itself felt in a number of ways, and the problem will only worsen. But what direct action can we take to deal with the problem? And how do we make sure that the problem is at the top of the policy agenda? Join an expert panel on Thursday 10 September, 3-5pm BST, to discuss the actions that can be taken to get water on the climate agenda

Environment and Biodiversity

Silverbacks and greenbacks: the catch-22 at the heart of gorilla conservation
In July this year… I went on a wildlife tour to Uganda. I undertook two gorilla treks and was thrilled by the experience. I delighted in the enthusiasm and knowledge of my guides and was moved by personal accounts of schools being built medical facilities being improved through the local community benefits of gorilla tourism. Several of my guides said their lives had significantly improved as a result of tourism…

Watch Western Wildfires Burn After Years of Drought
Visiting Alaska on Tuesday to highlight the dangers of climate change, President Barack Obama summoned up powerful images of the hundreds of wildfires that have burned across the state this summer: “More than five million acres in Alaska have already been scorched by fire this year—that’s an area about the size of Massachusetts.”… To keep track of current wildfires and to place them in a larger context, my collaborators and I have created an interactive map of fires in the United States. It tracks wildfires reported by GeoMAC, a federal clearinghouse of fire information run by the U.S. Geological Survey, as well as past wildfires going back as far as 2003.

Calls for more beehives in Southland
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live with bees? Three years ago Invercargill woman and Southland Bee Society member, Pat Hoffmann invested in her first beehive. A fellow colleague who owned six hives was looking to relocate one. “They offered it to me and I said yes.” She had never considered being a beekeeper before, and almost overnight she was responsible for keeping an entire hive alive, she said. Hoffmann quickly got the hang of beekeeping and was harvesting her first batch of honey. “I got about 11 kilogram of honey and that was it – I was hooked.” This month is Bee Awareness Month and the Southland Bee Society are encouraging people to consider owning their own beehive.

Economy and Business

New economic thinking could help tackle the planetary and housing crises
Oikos, meaning household, and nomos, meaning roughly a set of rules, are the generally accepted Greek roots for the word economics. Hence, stripped of its own wilful obfuscations as a discipline, economics is the art of good housekeeping. But, as the Nasa research shows, economics is failing lamentably at the level of planetary housekeeping, just as it is in the UK at the more prosaic but also important level of the housing market.

Economic modelling may overplay the costs of Australia’s 2030 climate target
The debate about Australia’s 2030 climate target, and how much it will cost Australia’s economy, continues. Last month, Australia announced a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Modelling by Professor Warwick McKibbin, economist at Australian National University, found that this would come at a cost of 0.6% of gross domestic product (GDP). McKibbin has argued that this puts Australia at the “high end” of global action in terms of economic costs. The Climate Change Authority, which has recommended a higher target of 40-60% below 2000 levels by 2030, has argued that Australia’s target is inadequate based on the size of emissions cuts. So is the modelling a solid foundation for Australia’s new climate target?

Sobering results for drinks giant Diageo reveals problems of sustainability targets
One of the most vocal champions of corporate target setting is the global drinks firm Diageo, which in 2008 laid out a raft of commitments to achieve by this year. The list includes steps such as reducing packaging weight by 10% and improving water efficiency by 30%. The company’s latest annual report, published last month, reveals that it fell short on seven of its eight main environmental goals… With results such as Diageo’s, it’s no wonder consumers and the public are mistrustful of corporate commitments. There have been so many false dawns in the sustainability space, says Marilyn Croser, director of the CORE Coalition, a civil society network pushing to improve corporate accountability. “The pace of change is slow and the problem is very urgent”, she adds.

Want People to Read Your Sustainability Report? Add a Personal Touch
Corporate responsibility report season is upon us, and with that, we are constantly being inundated with important data — reductions in carbon emissions, savings in waste and changes in energy use. This increase in sustainability reporting is a sign that we’re all moving towards a more sustainable future, but how can you make sure that the information you’re reporting on is relatable — that it’s truly resonating? How can you ensure that your customers and consumers feel connected to your sustainability report?

NZ businesses struggling to communicate good green stories
New Zealand has an enormous opportunity to show leadership on sustainability, but a large proportion of companies are struggling to identify how it fits into their organisation and communicate it, according to Sustainable Business Network chief executive Rachel Brown.  Ms Brown said NZ had the potential to lead on carbon neutrality, renewable energy and closing the loop on materials, but the struggle to embed sustainability into organisational identity was leading to difficulties in communicating efforts regarding greening operations and products.

5 User Experience Principles to Help Communicate Complex Ideas
With User Experience (UX), the primary objective is to remove barriers between the user and the outcome we want to create. We start by putting ourselves in the shoes of users and trying as best we can to get inside their heads so that we can approach the experience from their perspective. What kind of experience would they naturally gravitate toward? What might baffle them? What could thrill them? All of this becomes especially important when clients are trying to communicate something particularly detailed, nuanced or complex. In our experience, having a handful of solid principles to guide you can be particularly helpful.

Politics and Society

Refugee horrors cry out for humanity and leadership | Letters
Read letters from British society reacting to the refugee crisis.

So, Oprah bought a Tesla
Forget Justin Bieber, the latest celebrity endorsement of Tesla’s award-winning Model S prestige electric vehicle comes from America’s first lady of television, Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey Tweeted pictures of herself test-driving her new white Model S on Tuesday, and in one shot appeared to be sporting that legendary Tesla Smile people talk about.  The sale racks up another big win for Tesla, who promptly shared the Tweets on their Instagram account and welcomed Oprah to “the family”. As Fortune has since noted, a celebrity endorsement from Winfrey could go a long way to helping Tesla move into the mainstream.

Sam Judd: When the people lead
When I tell people that I spend a lot of my time running coastal clean-ups, one of the most common things I hear from people is criticism of their council or the government for them not doing it. What I have come to realise is that councils and governments are there to serve and support the people who elect them. That is to say that they are there to follow the will of their electorate, not lead them. By far the best solutions that I have seen over the years have come from a community level. I am now convinced that if you want something to change, you have to get up off your critical backside and do something about it yourself.

Naomi Klein: Abbott is committing villainous, criminal acts
Naomi Klein controversially called Tony Abbott a “climate villain” before arriving in Australia to promote her latest book, This Changes Everything. Now she’s arrived on our shores she hasn’t backed down, and she’s not mincing words. “One of the things I think is important about Pope Francis’s intervention in the climate debate is it reminds us that climate change is a moral crisis, that there are huge numbers of lives at stake,” Klein told media gathered at Sydney Opera House ahead of Saturday’s talk at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. “He calls destabilising the planet’s life support system a sin. That’s not language I use. I call it a crime. But too often we use this bloodless language, this very bureaucratic language that glosses over the huge moral crisis that we are in the midst of. So I stand by saying that these are villainous acts; they are I believe criminal acts.”

Tony Abbott and Naomi Klein agree: we can’t beat climate change under capitalism
The weird thing is that Klein and the prime minister, Tony Abbott, are in complete agreement on one fundamental thing: both believe that seriously tackling climate change is incompatible with capitalism as we know it. Of course, Klein starts with that and goes on to argue that our economic system must be upended if we are to have any chance to save the planet from the worst impacts of climate change. Abbott makes clear that he will protect the way things are at almost any cost.

EU diplomats reveal devastating impact of Ethiopia dam project on remote tribes
A controversial World Bank-funded scheme to dam a major Ethiopian river and import up to 500,000 people to work in what is planned to be one of the world’s largest sugar plantations has led to tens of thousands of Africa’s most remote and vulnerable people being insensitively resettled. According to reports, released this week, by two teams of British, American and EU diplomats who visited the resettlement areas in the Lower Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia last year, the lives of 20,000 Mursi, Bodi and other semi-nomadic tribespeople are being “fundamentally and irreversibly” changed by the mega-project.

Food Systems

Fabian Yukich and George Fistonich: Organic wine makers
In what was once a considered a low-end hippy market, organic wine is fast becoming the preferred drop of choice for discerning wine palates worldwide. That growth is seeing the sector gaining momentum throughout NZ vineyards. Today seven per cent of New Zealand wine growers are certified organic or biodynamic. Better known for being New Zealand’s most awarded winery, as early as 1990 Villa Maria has employed organic growing practices and wine production.

According to Fabian Yukich, executive director of Villa Maria Wines, who has been with the company for 18 years, the interest in organic wine grew as the company transitioned all its vineyards towards Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand and ISO140001 environmental accreditation. Says Yukich: “I’m a big believer in organics. We have a duty to look after the land and soil.”

Subway fast food chain opts out of cage egg production for its 1,400 Australian restaurants
The Subway fast food chain is known the world over for its catchy jingle encouraging customers to ‘Eat Fresh’. Now Subway wants customers to eat fresh with a clearer conscience. The chain uses around 5.5 million eggs across its 1,400 Australian outlets each year. Now those eggs will be cage free. Animal welfare groups have welcomed the move and are encouraging more companies to follow suit.


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