Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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While our top article reports on the massive acceleration of China’s emissions in the past two years with scientists worried that our chances are fading to limit global temperature increase to 2oC, there are still some glimmers of hope with investment in renewables continuing to increase (but not fast enough in the transport sector), and a ‘carbon bubble’ that should have fossil fuel companies and investors accelerating that change to renewables or be at risk of holding stranded assets. In a people power success story down under, the biggest supermarket chains in Australia are committing to reduce waste and remove plastic, in response to consumer demand – THAT’S YOU! Well done for making a difference.

Top Story

Limiting global warming to 2 degrees now ‘aspirational’: scientists | SMH
The chance of limiting human-induced global warming to less than 2 degrees is rapidly disappearing as carbon emissions again ramp up in China while reductions in the US and elsewhere stall, scientists say. Data from the CSIRO’s Global Carbon Project indicates greenhouse gas emissions in China accelerated to 1.5 per cent growth last year. China is now responsible for about a third of the world’s carbon emissions… Given China’s emissions are roughly double the next largest polluter – the US – and triple the European Union’s, its acceleration means there is a fast-diminishing chance that the rise in global average temperatures can be restricted to the range of 1.5 to 2 degrees, as agreed at the 2015 Paris climate conference.

Climate Change and Energy

Record year for solar and renewables, but still not fast enough | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – A record amount of solar capacity and renewable power was installed across the world in 2017 – as the cost of both wind and solar became competitive with fossil fuels – but it still is not enough, a major new report has found… while the growth in renewables electricity was pleasing and continues the transformation of the electricity sector, REN21 says it is concerned by the lack of change in transport, cooling and heating, which means the world is lagging behind its Paris climate goals.

Climate researchers argue for new way to treat methane | NZ Herald
A new study has suggested a fresh way to account for the greenhouse gas that makes up much of New Zealand’s contribution to climate change. Methane, under current measures, contributes nearly 40 per cent to the heat-trapping effect of all human-produced greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In New Zealand, the release of methane from ruminant livestock like sheep and cattle – mainly belched – alone amounts to nearly a third of our emissions. But the way in which methane has been compared with other greenhouse gases, notably the longer-lived carbon dioxide, has been debated for decades.

Fossil fuel electricity, without pollution: Texas has a new power plant | Vox
Back in April of 2016, I wrote about an exciting new technology for which construction was just getting underway: the Net Power natural gas power plant. It promised to capture its own carbon dioxide emissions, not in a separate, expensive, power-intensive process like conventional carbon-capture facilities, but as part of the combustion cycle. The company claimed that the technology will ultimately enable it to produce power at prices cheaper than conventional fossil fuel power plants — with carbon capture built in. Net Power had just started work on a small, 50 MW power plant in La Porte, Texas, meant to demonstrate that the technology can work. As of last year, the plant completed construction. And as of this week, it has achieved “first fire” and is running a battery of tests meant to ensure that everything is working up to snuff.

Environment and Biodiversity

Wilderness: an immersive 360° journey into Patagonia | The Guardian (Video 6:02)
The wilderness of Patagonia – shared by Argentina and Chile – has frequently been threatened by logging and oil industries. But in January, Chile signed a historic act of conservation, creating five protected national parks covering 4m hectares

An invasion of toxic toads threatens Madagascar’s vulnerable wildlife | The Conversation
Madagascar is in the midst of a toxic invasion. Since around 2010, an army of invasive Asian toads (Duttaphrynus melanostictus) has gained a foothold in and around the eastern port of Toamasina after they were accidentally introduced from South-East Asia. This has dismayed conservationists who worry about the island’s already beleaguered endemic fauna.

Economy and Business

‘Carbon bubble’ could spark global financial crisis, study warns | The Guardian
Plunging prices for renewable energy and rapidly increasing investment in low-carbon technologies could leave fossil fuel companies with trillions in stranded assets and spark a global financial crisis, a new study has found. A sudden drop in demand for fossil fuels before 2035 is likely, according to the study, given the current global investments and economic advantages in a low-carbon transition.

See also:

‘We can’t manage what we don’t measure’: Companies urged to disclose climate impact
More than 300 global corporates and cities have been urged to measure and publicly disclose their climate impact by a chorus of key figures including California Governor Jerry Brown and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa.

Fossil fuel supply: why it’s time to think seriously about cutting it off | Vox
There is a bias in climate policy shared by analysts, politicians, and pundits across the political spectrum so common it is rarely remarked upon. To put it bluntly: Nobody, at least nobody in power, wants to restrict the supply of fossil fuels. Policies that choke off fossil fuels at their origin — shutting down mines and wells; banning new ones; opting against new pipelines, refineries, and export terminals — have been embraced by climate activists, picking up steam with the Keystone pipeline protests and the recent direct action of the Valve Turners. Now a pair of economists has offered a cogent argument that the activists are onto something — that restrictive supply-side (RSS) climate policies have unique economic and political benefits and deserve a place alongside carbon prices and renewable energy supports in the climate policy toolkit.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Plastic straws to be shelved by Woolworths this year as Coles commits to 90pc diversion from landfill by 2022 | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths have announced new environmental commitments in response to a shift in consumer attitudes. Coles has pledged to halve food waste across its supermarkets in two years and divert 90 per cent of its waste, including food, cardboard and plastic, from landfill by 2022. The major retailer refused to reveal how much of its fresh food and packaging currently ends up in landfill.

Plastic packaged vegetables is spurring a consumer backlash. (ABC News: Amanda Hoh)

Plastic packaged vegetables is spurring a consumer backlash. (ABC News: Amanda Hoh)

Politics and Society

G7 fossil fuel subsidies worth $100bn a year to industry, study finds | Climate Home News
UK – The UK has been accused of trying to “fudge” how much it spends subsidising coal mining and fossil fuel use despite its pledge to phase out environmentally harmful subsidies by 2020. The country ranked first on its commitment to end fossil fuel subsidies but last on transparency in a new study led by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) which ranks each G7 country on ending support for the production and use of oil, gas and coal ahead of a group meeting which starts in Canada on Friday.

Trump has damaged the Paris Agreement, say its architects | Climate Home News
USA – One year on from the Donald Trump speech that broke the international consensus on climate change, architects of the Paris Agreement say the US has harmed attempts to fight global warming. On the first day of June last year, Trump ended months of speculation by siding with conservative aides who had urged him to remove the US from the Paris deal.

‘No doubt our climate is getting warmer,’ Malcolm Turnbull says | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Malcolm Turnbull, on a tour of drought-stricken areas in New South Wales and Queensland, has declared there is “no doubt that our climate is getting warmer”. Flanked by Nationals on Monday in Trangie, Turnbull acknowledged climate change remained a live political debate but he said: “I don’t know many people in rural New South Wales that I talk to that don’t think the climate is getting drier and rainfall is becoming more volatile.”

Margaret Atwood: ‘If the ocean dies, so do we’ | BBC News
UK – The celebrated author Margaret Atwood has told a conference that humanity’s future is linked to the survival of ocean ecosystems. Commenting on ocean plastic pollution, she said: “Something has to be done… If the ocean dies; end of us.” Ms Atwood was speaking at the Under Her Eye summit in London. The conference, held at the British Library, also heard that climate change disproportionately affects women on a global scale.

Built Environment

Q&A: What Is the Future of Green Building? | World Resources Institute
Buildings consume water and electricity—one-third of global energy consumption is in buildings—as well as the raw materials used in construction. But incremental, “building-by-building” change won’t be enough to capture green buildings’ spectacular potential. Andrew Steer, president and CEO of World Resources Institute, is the opening plenary keynote speaker at the upcoming World Green Building Council Congress. The World Green Building Council (WGBC) asked him some questions about how to catalyze the green building movement worldwide.

Driverless cars and climate change prompt push for urban farming | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Five kilograms of mushrooms, 100 heads of lettuce and 25 trays of micro-greens. These are the spoils so far from Mirvac’s urban farm pilot set up in the basement of its 200 George Street HQ in Sydney. The pilot program, Cultivate, has been operating for about six weeks, and has seen 200 staff sign up to get involved in fresh food production. The pilot could be a sign of the future for commercial office basements, as technology such as autonomous vehicles promises to make traditional car parks all but redundant.

People are telling us that it gives them a peaceful break in the middle of the working day, as well as a way of learning more about growing food

People are telling us that it gives them a peaceful break in the middle of the working day, as well as a way of learning more about growing food

Tesla owners roll out Australia-wide charging network – for all EVs | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – A group of dedicated Tesla owners and drivers has built an electric vehicle charging network that spans Australia, providing any and all EV drivers with a usable charging route while they wait for governments and industry to catch up. The Round Australia Electric Highway covers a route around the nation of close to 17,000km, with charging outlets spaced a maximum of 400km apart, but in most cases an average of 200km, and no more than 300km. The vast majority of the network – which was completed by May this year – uses 32 amp three-phase charge points, which are able to be used by all types of EVs, using a 3 phase charging cable.