Sustainable Development news

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Top Story

The 7 Reasons That Science Says You Should Pay For Experience, Not Things
Your big travel plans might seem like a waste of money. What will you come back with, besides some photos on your phone and a few memories. If you bought a TV with that money instead, you’d watch it every day. While that might seem more valuable, it’s been determined way beyond reasonable doubt that experiences are more likely than material goods to lead to happiness. Since this new truth was first unearthed back in 2003 by psychologists Tom Gilovich and Leaf Van Boven, pioneering researchers have been joining the dots of previous work and conducting new studies to work out why: why are experiences so much better than material goods at making us happy?

Energy and Climate Change

Greenland glacial lake melts could have Antarctic implications: scientists
A scientific discovery about glacial ice melting in Greenland has raised questions about similar processes in Antarctica. University of Tasmania Professor Matt King has been part of an international team looking at the mechanics of how the Greenland ice sheet is changing. He said researchers were particularly interested in how it could contribute to sea level rises in the future. “Every summer air temperatures in Greenland become warm enough for it to start to melt some ice on the surface,” he said. The melt water forms hundreds of ground-level lakes.

US scientists: Global warming pause ‘no longer valid’
US researchers say new evidence casts doubt on the idea that global warming has “slowed” in recent years. A US government laboratory says the much talked about “pause” is an illusion caused by inaccurate data. Updated observations show temperatures did not plateau, say National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) scientists. The warming rate over the past 15 years is “virtually identical” to the last century, they report in Science.

Climate meme debunked as the ‘tropospheric hot spot’ is found
Before climate sceptics got excited about the “hiatus” or slowdown in global surface warming during the past 15 years or so, they were fond of discussing the “missing tropospheric hotspot” – the alleged lack of anticipated temperature increase in the tropical upper troposphere (roughly 5-15 km altitude). Both the “hiatus” and the “missing hot spot” have been interesting research problems, because models seemed like they might be missing something important. There have been significant advances on both problems in the past year. And the new results do not offer much hope that scientists are fundamentally mistaken about global warming.

Methane emissions raise doubts about gas industry’s climate advantage
The grainy black and white photograph taken with an infrared camera shows a smoky haze wafting from a natural gas storage tank. That cloud is methane escaping, said Philip Swanson, administrator of a United Nations-led industry partnership aimed at curbing leakage of the primary component of natural gas. His presentation at the World Gas Conference in Paris on Tuesday highlighted how the energy being promoted as one of the solutions to fighting climate change is also contributing to the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. “This is a reputational issue for the industry,” Swanson said. Methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas, and yet data on emissions during production and transport of natural gas “are still patchy.”

Plans for Australia’s first non-hydro renewable storage project move forward
The potential site for what will be the first large-scale, non-hydro storage project for renewable energy in Australia has identified three possible sites in South Australia, and received more than 40 different storage proposals and ideas. The project – known as Energy Storage for Commercial Renewable Integration South Australia (ESCRI-SA) – is a ground breaking project for Australia because it will be first and biggest of its type.

Can China’s top-down approach fix its environmental crisis?
China has the largest and one of the most dynamic clean tech sectors in the world. The close to $90bn invested in clean tech last year puts it well ahead of both the EU and the US. For all the recent troubles of companies such as Hanergy, China has some of the world’s largest solar, wind and other green tech companies. As growth slows in western markets, they are increasingly looking for business at home. There is good reason for this too. China burns almost half the coal in the world, and accounts for 30% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions each year. Emissions from coal plants in China are responsible for a quarter of a million premature deaths a year.

What Would China Look Like If All The World’s Ice Sheets Melted?
As sea levels rise, Shanghai is sinking—and at least one study ranks it as the most vulnerable city in the world for future floods. A new series of maps looks at what would happen to it, and other major coastal cities in China, if all of the ice sheets in the world melted.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Bad news for coal in Mercer’s climate change investment report
Investors must start taking the threat of climate change seriously, according to a new report from consulting giant Mercer, which predicts that average annual returns from the coal sector could decline by up to 138 per cent over the next 10 years. The report, Investing in a time of climate change, outlines actions for investors to manage the risks and opportunities of climate change. The aim is to allow investors “to be better informed to identify, assess, and act on climate change within the investment process”.

Fossil fuel divestment is rational, says former Shell chairman
The former chairman of Shell has said that investors moving their money out of fossil fuel companies is a rational response to the industry’s “distressing” lack of progress on climate change. Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, who spent almost four decades at Shell and rose to be its chairman, also said the big oil and gas companies had been calling for a price to be put on CO2 emissions for 15 years but had done little to make it happen.

Environment and Biodiversity

Fish, Crabs Are Losing Homes as Oceans Lose Oxygen
Atlantic cod, the storied catch of New England’s fishing industry, have little in common with bottom-dwelling rock crab, which are perhaps best known for swiping bait from lobster traps. But a largely unheralded byproduct of climate change–loss of oxygen in the ocean–will hit both dramatically by limiting where they can live, according to a new study published Thursday.

Seven new species of miniature frogs discovered in cloud forests of Brazil
Seven new species of miniature frog, smaller than bumblebees, have been discovered clinging to survival on isolated mountaintops in Brazil. The largest of the new discoveries has a maximum adult length of just 13mm. The frogs, which are among the smallest land vertebrates, have evolved with fewer fingers and toes in order to reduce their size.  Miniaturisation allows the frogs to emerge from their eggs as fully-formed, albeit tiny, adults.

One of the species of miniaturised frog found in the Brazilian Atlantic forest. Photograph: Luiz Fernando Ribeiro, CC BY SA

One of the species of miniaturised frog found in the Brazilian Atlantic forest. Photograph: Luiz Fernando Ribeiro, CC BY SA


Maggie Barry urges SPCA to kill stray cats
Conservation Minister Maggie Barry is urging the SPCA to start putting down stray cats, rather than neutering and releasing them, in an effort to save kiwi. Releasing neutered cats that will continue to kill birds was unacceptable, she said.  “I think that is one of the most foolish and counterproductive techniques I’ve ever heard. Cats that have been spayed and released are a big problem. If the SPCA capture wild cats, they should put them down in a humane way, or they should offer them to people.”

WA department ignoring own guidelines over proposed rubbish tip, putting numbats at risk: Greens
AUSTRALIA – The Greens say a WA Government department is ignoring its own guidelines over a proposed rubbish tip near Dryandra Woodland, south-east of Perth, which could attract feral cats putting local numbats at risk. They have accused the WA Department of Environment Regulation (DER) of not doing enough to ensure numbats were not affected by the dump planned for the Cuballing Shire.

Economy and Business

Could climate resilience market top $200bn?
The world may soon be spending $200bn each year to combat losses from climate impacts, driving huge opportunities for a wide range of businesses. That is the conclusion of a new report by Mott MacDonald and Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute (GSI), which calculates annual losses from climate impacts could rise from around $100bn today to hit $1 trillion in 20 years’ time. If rising emissions increase the rate of climate change as most scientists expect, the world is likely to face more frequent storms, droughts and other extreme weather. Without investment in climate resilience, the cumulative loss over the next two decades will “well exceed $5 trillion”, the report warns.

IKEA assembles another €1bn to tackle climate change
Swedish furniture giant IKEA has today called on other businesses to follow its lead after pledging another €1bn to invest in renewable energy and climate adaptation measures over the next five years. IKEA said it would invest €600m in renewable energy, in addition to the €1.5bn it has already invested in wind and solar power since 2009. Its charitable arm IKEA Foundation also pledged €400m to help the most vulnerable communities affected by the impacts of climate change, such as flooding and drought.

M&S bags £160m from refocused Plan A
Marks & Spencer (M&S) has reported “strong progress” on its pioneering Plan A sustainability strategy, which has generated £160m for the company since it was updated 12 months ago. The retailer revealed 100 new, revised and existing commitments to meet by the end of the decade as part of the revised Plan A 2020 in June last year, including its international operations for the first time.

French company to carbon capture in Adelaide in Australia’s first commercial attempt to burn emission-free fossil fuels
A carbon capture plant to be built on Torrens Island Power Station in Adelaide’s north-west is expected to have the same impact as taking 16,000 cars off the road. French company Air Liquide has announced it will run the multi-million-dollar plant, which will capture up to 50,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. Instead of going into the atmosphere, it will be used to carbonate drinks and treat waste water.

Electric car sales on course for record year
Sales of low-emission cars are continuing their rapid acceleration, with industry figures showing four times as many vehicles were registered in the first five months of 2015 than the same period last year. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) records 11,842 ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs) registered between January and May, up from 2,838 a year ago. 2014 went on to be a record year for electric car sales, with registrations quadrupling to almost 14,500 and purchases of all alternatively fuelled vehicles (AFVs) topping 51,000.

Waste and the Circular Economy

NZ’s circular economy model office project tackling fitout churn
The New Zealand Sustainable Business Network is tackling office fitout churn that sees hundreds of thousands of tonnes of useable materials, furniture and equipment every year going to landfill. The issue, which has recently come to the fore in Australia, is being tackled by a Circular Economy Model Office project that takes a multi-level approach including designers, manufacturers, asset owners, leasing agents and building tenants. Network general manager for the NZSBN James Griffin said the CEMO was a simple process for reducing office refurbishment waste that had been developed through a process of stakeholder engagement, workshops and a pilot project undertaken by Auckland City Council when it shifted into a new head office.

The timber revolution in a (macadamia) nutshell
The humble macadamia nut could be part of a revolution the Australian building industry, if a group of Australian researchers have their way. A team of University of Sydney architecture and engineering experts want to use discarded macadamia shells’ water resistant properties as a key ingredient in a new timber product. Their project is the first stage of a long-term research initiative by the university exploring new design principles, material and production processes using cutting-edge fabrication technologies, which will deliver sustainable, alternative products for the Australian building industry.

Plastic bag recycling plan could cost customers
A New Zealand-first recycling programme for plastic bags is being developed by the packaging industry in response to mounting concerns about their impact on the environment. But a Nelson environmentalist says that a voluntary recycling scheme won’t be as effective as a nationwide levy for plastic bags and consumers will pick up the cost.  The Packaging Forum has started developing a programme for soft plastic recycling, which includes plastic shopping bags. It will involve the collection of plastic bags at supermarkets and retail stores.

Four easy tips to make your batteries last longer
Here are a few things you can do to make your lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries last longer, whether they be used in an electric car, a large home installation – such as Tesla’s newly announced Powerwall – or in your portable device, such as a smartphone or laptop. These tips will focus primarily on extending the lifespan of Li-ion batteries, so they don’t need to be replaced as often. But if you are looking to maximise running time just for this very moment, possibly at the expense of having to replace the battery earlier, there are some added tips at the end.

Politics and Society

Bonn climate talks start slow as hefty text withstands the chop
Progress was glacial at UN climate talks in Bonn as delegates tarried in slimming down a draft global warming treaty to be adopted in Paris in December.After four days, negotiators had trimmed just 5% of the 90-page rough copy, head of the Alliance of Small Islands States delegation, Amjad Abdulla told RTCC.

CRC PhD scholarships opening pathways into the low-carbon economy
AUSTRALIA – The CRC for Low Carbon Living breathed a sigh of relief last week when Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced its funding would be retained, according to CRCLCL director Professor Deo Prasad. The news also means prospective students can confidently apply for the 42 PhD research scholarships currently on offer, which come with an annual $30,000 tax-free grant and all kinds of interesting consulting and work opportunities. Professor Prasad said he hopes to have 25 applicants by 20 June, who can then commence their study in second semester 2015.

Ibiza conservationists claim victory as Scottish firm abandons oil search
It was a battle that pitted one of the world’s most notorious party islands against a push for offshore oil prospecting. Celebrities, including Kate Moss and Fatboy Slim, had lined up behind a local campaign to keep a Scottish oil explorer away from the coast of Ibiza. This week, after four years of sustained campaigning against a move that critics said would hurt tourism and wreak havoc on the area’s rich biodiversity, Cairn Energy announced it was abandoning its plans. The move was greeted with joy by Vicent Serra, president of the island’s local government.

Built Environment

City’s trees woefully protected, study finds
NEW ZEALAND – An urgent warning has been sounded for the trees remaining in Auckland’s concrete jungle after researchers found there’s scant protection left to save them from development. A study shows the Auckland isthmus has just 6 per cent of its urban forest left, and of that, well over half stands on private land. Only 15 per cent is protected through Auckland Council’s Schedule of Notable Trees – the only remaining tool for tree protection after changes to the Resource Management Act in 2012.

Case study: How Auckland City Council found big savings going green
Auckland City Council’s new headquarters show how green building can save operational costs and reduce waste during construction. The fitout for 135 Albert Street was designed and built using the NZ Green Building Council’s Green Star Office Interiors rating tool. It’s aiming for a 5 Star Green Star rating and a five star NABERSNZ rating once it is fully commissioned. Council estimates the sustainable design, materials and mechanical systems will save ratepayers an estimated NZ$2.7 million over the next 10 years.

As flooding worsens, new ideas needed
Damaging floods like those in Dunedin are expected to become more common and New Zealanders are being urged to find innovative ways to deal with them. It is even being suggested that in some cases it might be better to move people out of areas, rather than spend large sums to improve infrastructure. Climate change, as well as the growth and densification of some cities, were causes of the rise in surface flooding, Waikato University environmental planning professor Iain White said.

Why new housing estates and whole towns will go off grid
Imagine this: Newly built housing estates that are not even connected to the main electricity grid. Solar and battery storage come standard in new homes, included in the purchase price and mortgage, and effectively providing free electricity. The package may even include an electric vehicle in the garage. Sound like a dream into the future? Maybe, but not very far into the future. According to players in the battery storage and smart technology markets, it is already happening and housing developers in Australia are exploring exactly these sort of options.

Food Systems

Can you guess how many teaspoons of sugar are in these foods? – quiz
Calling obesity the new smoking, NHS England’s chief executive has said the food and drink industry should cut sugar content or risk ‘poisoning’ its customers.  Can you guess how many teaspoons are in these products?

How modern crops can ensure food security in a heatwave
India’s heatwave again highlights just how seriously extreme weather conditions threaten our ability to put sufficient nutritious food on all our plates. Headlines have focused on the human deaths – at least 2,500 at last count – but a heatwave can hit farming too. There are reports of scorched crops and livestock struggling to survive in temperatures of 40C or more. More than 17 million chickens have died so far, leading to rapid price increases. What is not yet so clear is the effect of the current extreme conditions on crop yields and food supply later in the year. Crop scientists the world over are grappling with these questions – but can their work can really protect food security in the face of extreme climate challenges?


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