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 forests will collapse if we don’t learn to say ‘no’
An alarming new study has shown that the world’s forests are not only disappearing rapidly, but that areas of “core forest” — remote interior areas critical for disturbance-sensitive wildlife and ecological processes — are vanishing even faster… The collapse of the world’s forests isn’t going to stop until we start to say “no” to environmentally destructive projects.

Those who criticise new infrastructure projects are often accused of opposing direly needed economic development, or — if they hail from industrial nations — of being hypocrites. But when one begins to look in detail at the proposed projects, an intriguing pattern appears: Many are either poorly justified or will have far greater costs than benefits.

Energy and Climate Change

Climate change: the unusual suspects
Carbon dioxide has actually caused only 64 per cent of warming since the pre-industrial era. The rest has been caused by other emissions, principally methane. We need to recognise methane’s role as carbon dioxide’s chief accomplice. Methane’s global warming potential is 28 times greater than carbon dioxide, and it has caused 17 per cent of warming to date (for some reason the GWP of methane is habitually under-reported, even by science correspondents). In fact, both these figures are probably underestimates…

Morocco to switch on first phase of world’s largest solar plant
Morocco’s king will switch on the first phase of a concentrated solar power plant on Thursday that will become the world’s largest when completed. The power station on the edge of the Saharan desert will be the size of the country’s capital city by the time it is finished in 2018, and provide electricity for 1.1 million people.

Has the U.S. Really Reached an Historic Turning Point in Energy?
As the new UN climate accord pushes countries to cut carbon emissions, the United States is making progress, but will it continue, and will it be enough?

Restoring the grid after a blackout — using batteries
In a German premiere, a grid-scale battery storage system is to provide “black start capability” – the ability to restore a regional distribution grid in the case of major disruption to the network – a service provided until now only by conventional power plants.

From liquid air to supercapacitors, energy storage is finally poised for a breakthrough
“It doesn’t always rain when you need water, so we have reservoirs – but we don’t have the same system for electricity,” says Jill Cainey, director of the UK’s Electricity Storage Network. But that may change in 2016, with industry figures predicting a breakthrough year for a technology not only seen as vital to the large-scale rollout of renewable energy, but also offering the prospect of lowering customers’ energy bills.

Catalyst: Battery powered homes
AUSTRALIA – There’s a power revolution heading for our homes – a device that allows you to take power into your own hands. Its batteries, home batteries, and they’ve been called the holy grail of renewables – the key to the transition away from fossil fuels. Australia is at the vanguard of this revolution – we will be one of the first countries in the world to experience the transition to the battery powered home. Find out how you can be part of it.

Environment and Biodiversity

See Rare Drone Footage of Blue Whale Mom and Calf
A new video offers a fresh look at an endangered species that is slowly recovering. It’s not often that people get a glimpse of the largest animal that has ever lived. But rare drone footage of a blue whale mother and her calf gliding through the Southern Ocean off Antarctica has gone viral this week.

Call for urgent inquiry into world heritage forest fires in Tasmania
A national inquiry into the fires devastating world heritage forests in Tasmania is urgently needed, say conservationists and academics. The call comes as experts say fires like those could be the new normal.

Economy and Business

Company transparency could help overcome resistance to environmental action in China
China’s existing level of environmental damage is imposing a huge economic burden on its chances for growth. It’s the need for transparency and accountability in tackling these environmental problems, not the technical aspects of new green technology, or new financial instruments, that will determine its economic future.

Global investors gather in New York to scale up investments in the low-carbon economy
500 investors gathered on Wednesday at the UN headquarters in New York for the first major climate event of the year, the Investor Summit on Climate Risk. Organized by Ceres, the United Nations Foundation and the United Nations Office for Partnerships the summit shed light on one of the key issues of the pre-2020 agenda: mobilizing massive contributions from the investor community to scale up financing for the low-carbon economy.

Stakeholder Collaboration Enables Accelerated Progress in APP’s Peatland Management Efforts
On Thursday, Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) released a progress report on its Forest Conservation Policy (FCP), in honor of the initiative’s third anniversary. The FCP involves four main corporate commitments that have regulated the company’s resource development since 2013. APP claims to have accelerated progress in its peatland restoration work and strengthened fire prevention measures, in addition to promises to provide funding for additional conservation projects this year.

AGL quits coal seam gas, to focus on “energy evolution”
Australia’s biggest energy utility, AGL, has announced that it is quitting gas exploration and production as part of a move to accelerate the company’s focus on the “evolution” in the energy industry. The decision by AGL, founded as the Australian Gas Light Company in 1837, means that it will drop its controversial coal seam gas projects in the Gloucestor Basin and ultimately it operations near Camden in NSW – to the relief of environmental groups and local communities who had campaigned against them.
See also: AGL exits NSW, Queensland coal seam gas in major win for opponents

Royal Dutch Shell confirms 10,000 job cuts as profit plunges 87 per cent on slumping oil prices
Royal Dutch Shell has confirmed it will cut 10,000 jobs worldwide after an 87 per cent plunge in annual net profits on slumping oil prices. The Anglo-Dutch group reported profit after tax of $US1.94 billion ($2.7 billion) for 2015, compared with almost $US15 billion ($20.9 billion) the previous year, Shell said in a statement. It is the company’s lowest annual profit in at least 13 years.

Australian Solar PV Roof Tile Developer Will Launch IPO
A Sydney-based company behind innovative solar PV roofing tiles that can both generate electricity and heat water has lodged a prospectus with the Australian Securities and Investment Commission ahead of the launch of an Initial Public Offer. Trac Group Ltd announced last week it was offering up to 26,000,000 shares at $0.25 to raise $6.5 million, money that would be used to fund the expansion of the company in Australia, to roll out its products internationally and to maintain its intellectual property portfolio.

Adani puts Galilee coal mine on hold pending recovery in coal price
The Indian mining and energy giant Adani Enterprises appears to have put development of its massive and controversial $16 billion Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin on hold – until coal prices show signs of a solid rebound.

Coal mine operator faces possible multi-million dollar fine over Hazelwood fire
AUSTRLAIA – The operators of one of Victoria’s biggest coal mines face possible fines of more than $10 million over a massive fire in 2014. The fire at Hazelwood in Gippsland blanketed the town of Morwell in thick smoke for more than a month. Residents had to move, and there have been fears of long term health damage. Now WorkSafe Victoria has charged the operator, GDF Suez, with 10 breaches of workplace laws. Class actions could follow.

US electricity industry’s use of coal fell to historic low in 2015 as plants closed
America’s use of coal for electricity dropped to its lowest point in the historical record in 2015, delivering a new blow to an industry already in painful decline. The dirtiest of fossil fuels and America’s biggest single source of climate pollution, coal accounted for just 34% of US electricity generation last year, according to the Sustainable Energy in America handbook on Thursday. It was the smallest share for coal in the electricity mix since 1949, the first year in which Energy Information Administration records were kept.

Q&A: Simon Millar, CEO, Pure Advantage
I have always had an interest in how science and business work together and that is underscored by a lifetime connection to the land and water. A turning point came when I lived in Los Angeles. In 2006 I was developing a TV series based on Elizabeth Kolbert’s “Field Notes from a Catastrophe” when An Inconvenient Truth came out. This turned the wheels for action in a major way – I sold my GMC Yukon 4×4 urban assault vehicle and bought a Prius and enrolled in post graduate training in global sustainability at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) with the aim of doing future business with a greater purpose.

Winds of change at Kapiti coastal park
NEW ZEALAND – Change is in the air at the Wellington Regional Council park, as motorists driving between Paekakariki and Raumati over the past few months might have noticed. Weed-infested paddocks have been sprayed, bright green plantain and clover have taken their place, and 3000 lambs and 400 cattle are tucking into the freshly planted feed.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Sustainable Coastlines takes message abroad
To say that Indonesia has a rubbish problem is to put it mildly. The capital Jakarta, population 10 million, produces 6250 tonnes of trash each day. There aren’t enough trucks to navigate the city’s gridlocked traffic and collect it all, so much of it ends up in ocean-bound waterways.

A man walks beside scattered plastic trash at Kuta Beach, Indonesia, in 2014. The influx of waste has become an annual phenomenon as piles of debris are carried to the beach by strong currents during the winter months.

A man walks beside scattered plastic trash at Kuta Beach, Indonesia, in 2014. The influx of waste has become an annual phenomenon as piles of debris are carried to the beach by strong currents during the winter months.

The Body Shop to investigate new plastic packaging made from greenhouse gases
A plastic material made out of greenhouse gases could end up being used by The Body Shop for its packaging. The Body Shop has revealed that it will work with California’s Newlight Technologies to develop its AirCarbon product to reduce oil-based packaging across its range by 70% by 2020.

Politics and Society

Combined sugar and carbon tax could reduce UK emissions by 19 million tonnes
By combining a sugar tax on soft drinks with a food-based carbon tax, the UK could raise £3.6bn in revenue; reduce carbon emissions by 19 million tonnes annually and increase life expectancy, researchers from Oxford University have claimed.

Welsh Assembly unanimously approves climate change law
Lawmakers in the Welsh Assembly have passed new climate change legislation committing the country to cutting carbon emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050. The Environment (Wales) Bill will become law after being unanimously approved by Welsh Assembly members on Tuesday.

Climate science to be gutted as CSIRO swings jobs axe
Fears that some of Australia’s most important climate research institutions will be gutted under a Turnbull government have been realised with deep job cuts for scientists. Fairfax Media has learnt that as many as 110 positions in the Oceans and Atmosphere division will go, with a similarly sharp reduction in the Land and Water division. Total job cuts would be about 350 staff over two years, the CSIRO confirmed in an email to staff, with the Data61 and Manufacturing divisions also hit.

CSIRO cuts to climate science are against the public good
AUSTRALIA – CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) is facing another round of job losses to basic public research, with the news that the organisation is making deep staffing cuts to areas such as Oceans and Atmosphere and Land and Water. Internally, there are signals that Oceans and Atmosphere will be cut substantially, amid 350 job losses over two years across the organisation.

Australians couldn’t care less about politics? Really?
It has become accepted wisdom in public discourse that Australians are disengaged with politics. But is that really the case? Or are we more invested in our political system than we appear to be?

Roads lobby spends big as Greens call for donation reform
Both Labor and Liberal governments received donations from roads bodies in 2014-15, including from toll road operator Transurban, the Australian Automobile Association and the NRMA,  political party donation data from the Australian Electoral Commission released this week has shown. The 2014–15 annual financial disclosure returns from donors revealed that political parties received close to $200 million, with the Liberal Party receiving the most, nearly $76m, and the Labor Party next with close to $66m.

Sending children back to Nauru risks creating a generation of damaged people
AUSTRALIA – The 37 asylum seeker babies and 54 children who risk deportation from Australia could face significant, irreversible mental health damage if sent back to Nauru. And the longer they’re detained, the greater the risk of damage. A report released today by the Australian Human Rights Commission shows children previously detained on Nauru already show significant symptoms of trauma.

Australia’s emissions are climbing again, but it already has the policies to turn the tide
With the world’s nations having pledged in Paris to limit global warming to well below 2℃, it is clear that Australia (which joined the “high-ambition” diplomatic push for a 1.5℃ target also to be included in the agreement), will be expected to make far deeper emissions cuts than it has so far achieved.

Artist turns climate data into striking paintings
Climate data is usually seen in pixels, spreadsheets, and maps. But watercolor paintings? Not so much. That’s what makes a growing series of paintings by Maine-based artist Jill Pelto so striking. They combine haunting imagery from the natural world with hard data showing the impact climate change is having.

Glaciers are losing mass in the North Cascades, where Pelto’s father has done work for decades monitoring glacier retreat and related changes. Annual glacier mass balance data is represented in the painting. Jill Pelto

Glaciers are losing mass in the North Cascades, where Pelto’s father has done work for decades monitoring glacier retreat and related changes. Annual glacier mass balance data is represented in the painting. Jill Pelto

Paris climate deal could ‘displace millions of forest dwellers’
The Paris climate agreement could make millions of forest dwellers homeless, according to a new analysis.  Many developing countries will try to curb carbon emissions by setting aside forested areas as reserves. But experts are worried that creating national parks often involves removing the people who live in these areas.

Illegal Logging Has Become More Violent Than Ever
After a productive day—they’d encountered a gang of illegal loggers and confiscated six chain saws—the four patrollers in Cambodia’s Preah Vihear Protected Forest strung up their hammocks and settled in for the night. Come morning, they’d return to the nearest Forestry Administration station, just 2.5 miles away. But at 1 a.m. on November 7, 2015, two intruders slipped into the campsite…

Sam Judd: The story of a cyclone
I think we live in the best place in the world. Summertime really is the time that most of us get to truly enjoy the vast natural capital that we are so lucky to have.  Today I thought that a story about how awesome the New Zealand coastline is would be appropriate, because what is not to love out here?

Surfing on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula in the wake of cyclone Victor. Photo / Sam Judd

Surfing on the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula in the wake of cyclone Victor. Photo / Sam Judd

Built Environment

This House Costs Just $20,000—But It’s Nicer Than Yours
USA – For over a decade, architecture students at Rural Studio, Auburn University’s design-build program in a tiny town in West Alabama, have worked on a nearly impossible problem. How do you design a home that someone living below the poverty line can afford, but that anyone would want—while also providing a living wage for the local construction team that builds it?

WELL building standard set to storm the property world
AUSTRALIA – The WELL Building Standard looks set to shake up the top end of the property industry as much as Green Star did when it burst onto the scene in 2002.

Concerns over habitat clearing to make way for industrial park
AUSTRLAIA – A New South Wales resident says the destruction of crucial wildlife habitat to make way for a $50 million industrial business park at Port Stephens is unacceptable. Concerned local Jean Armstrong has written a submission to Port Stephens Council, opposing Tomago Aluminium’s application for the Tomago subdivision… “Other areas of the site have already been used and that’s fine, develop those, why not?” she said. “But to cause such devastation to the wildlife corridor, through from the botanical gardens virtually to the wetlands, it’s not suitable.”


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