Sustainable Development News

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

Native forests are worth more unlogged, so why are we still cutting them down?
AUSTRALIA – I spent the first four years of my life living in the middle of the forest in southeastern NSW. Our log cabin was at the end of a dirt road, surrounded by stringybark, spotted gum and the sounds of kookaburras and lyre birds. Wombat holes and lichen-covered boulders dotted the hillside and the creek ran cold and clear, steeped red-brown with tea tree. After we moved to the city, we returned most years to visit family. Every trip more and more of the surrounding bushland was cleared and replanted with radiata pine.

Energy and Climate Change

NZ ratifies Paris climate change agreement
NEW ZEALAND – New Zealand has ratified the Paris Agreement to combat climate change. It has formally submitted its emissions reduction target of 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The agreement, which was struck in Paris last December, aims to keep global temperature rises to well below 2°C. In order for it to come into force, 55 countries, making up 55 percent of global emissions, need to ratify the agreement. India ratified the deal at the weekend – the 63rd country to do so – and pushed the emissions threshold to 52 percent. European Parliament has backed the ratification overnight – which means national ministers can now ratify the agreement on behalf of the EU later this week, meaning both thresholds will be met.

Canada to tax carbon emissions to meet climate targets
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a new tax on carbon emissions in Canada, which will apply from 2018. The new tax, announced last Monday, is part of the country’s plans to achieve its climate targets. The announcement was made in parliament during a debate over Canada’s ratification of the Paris Agreement, which is now expected to be voted on Wednesday by the House of Commons.

President Obama and Leonardo DiCaprio talk climate change at the White House – video
Leonardo DiCaprio joins President Barack Obama at the White House ahead of a screening of his new documentary, Before the Flood. The actor says: “If you don’t believe in climate change, you don’t believe in facts, and science, and empirical truths,” he says. “And, in my humble opinion, [you] should not be allowed to hold public office.” The words were interpreted as a slight against presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Read also: President Obama Urges Swift Action on Climate Change

Hydrogen cars and electrolysers: the dawn of Australia’s hydrogen economy?
The hydrogen economy has been a long time coming. The use of hydrogen as a replacement energy source for oil and gas has been talked about since the early 1970s when the term was first coined by an engineer at General Motors in the US. It still hasn’t really arrived. And doubters remain. They point to the heavy infrastructure needed to support the technology, the huge amount of energy it consumes, and wonder how it can compete with the falling costs of wind and solar energy, and the surging interest in electric vehicles (EVs).  Ironically, it is those very factors that are making the idea of a hydrogen economy appealing again.

Tariff reform could save billions on grid costs, slash customer bills
The introduction of smart meter-enabled demand-based network tariffs across Australia could save consumers more than 10 per cent a year on their electricity bills and rack up broader economic benefits of $1.8 billion, according to a new report by energy consultancy Energeia.

Lessons from South Australia’s blackout: we need to make infrastructure more resilient to climate change
Last week’s storm and subsequent state-wide blackout in South Australia reminds us how important the electricity grid – and other infrastructure – is for our communities.  Immediate analysis suggests the blackout was caused by the collapse of transmission infrastructure in South Australia… While the storm hasn’t yet been specifically linked to climate change, it also serves as a reminder of the increasing challenges of delivering essential services in a more variable climate and slowing economy.

Environment and Biodiversity

Sharks and rays win new protections at global wildlife summit
Silky sharks, thresher sharks and devil rays all won new protections at a global wildlife summit late on Monday… The 182 nations of the Convention in the Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), meeting in Johannesburg, voted to put in place its first measures to control the trade in these species. The move, along with protections for five other sharks at the previous Cites summit in 2013, suggest the tide is turning for sharks.

Brazil revises Amazon deforestation 6% upward
The Brazilian government has revised upward its estimate for the extent of Amazon rainforest destroyed last year. Figures released last week by Brazil’s National Space Research Agency (INPE) put Amazon deforestation at 6,207 square kilometers for the year ended July 31, 2015. That represents an increase of 6.5 percent relative to the estimate of 5,831 square kilometers published last December.

UK police tackle Cyprus bird poachers
The UK authorities in Cyprus are doubling the number of officers targeting illegal songbird trapping on British military territory. Each year, hundreds of thousands of birds are killed on the bases, mostly sold for food in what has become a multi-million pound black-market trade.

Rare flowering plant Kunzea newbeyi found in WA’s South West set to bloom
An “inconspicuous” rare flowering plant has been discovered to be in abundance in Western Australia’s South West following a survey of bushland… Relatively little is known about the plant, which is classified as a “priority one” rare species by WA’s Department of Agriculture and Food. However Bush Heritage Australia landscape manager Simon Smale said the discovery had come as a shock and showed how important the region was for conservation. “It’s sort of a surprise but we’re kind of getting used to these sort of surprises, you know?” he said. “We know [the South West is] a global biodiversity hotspot.

NZ’s only forest butterfly faces extinction
The elegant native butterfly, the forest ringlet or Dodonidia helmsi, is on the brink of extinction, experts claim. Up until the 1970s, forest ringlet butterflies were found throughout New Zealand districts, ranges and regional parks. However, over the last few decades it has experienced a major decline in both numbers and distribution.   The Moths and Butterflies of New Zealand Trust has reached out to a Senior Conservation Officer, Steve Wheatley, from Sir David Attenborough’s Butterfly Conservation in the UK to advise on how best to protect the butterfly, New Zealand’s only true forest butterfly.

The forest ringlet butterfly has experienced a major decline in numbers.

The forest ringlet butterfly has experienced a major decline in numbers.

Tread carefully with GE pest control, Govt warned
The Government has been told it is likely to need a genetically engineered solution to reach its ambitious pest-free New Zealand goal and that it should expect some staunch opposition from the public… Scientists around the world are looking at a range of potential pest control methods which involve varying levels of genetic modification or engineering. One of the possible solutions is “editing” an animal’s genes to instil infertility throughout an entire population.

Community-led waterway clean up coming to Wellington and Hutt Valley
NEW ZEALAND – A community-led project to clean up rivers and waterways will start in the Wellington and the Hutt Valley early next year. Greater Wellington Regional Council chairman Chris Laidlaw said the project, which is already running in Porirua and Ruamahanga, is the first of its kind in New Zealand. Whaituas are based around the five catchment areas of the Wairarapa, Rumahanga, Kapiti Coast, Te Awarua o Porirua, and the Wellington Harbour and Hutt Valley. A whaitua means designated space in te reo and the five catchment committees will blend Maori principles with scientific technologies to manage water resources of the region.

Economy and Business

More than half of all businesses ignore UN’s sustainable development goals
Businesses are failing to work on the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs), according to two new surveys, despite being billed as having a key role to play in achieving the ambitious goals. With an estimated investment gap of at least $3tn annually across the SDGs for the next 15 years, private sector involvement is critical if countries are to succeed. Yet fewer than half of global companies plan to engage with the goals, according to Ethical Corporation’s State of Responsible Business 2016 report, which surveyed 2,045 sustainability professionals globally (36% of whom worked for a company or a brand).

Australian corporate social responsibility reports are little better than window dressing
Despite increasing visibility of corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives over the last decade, real change in corporate behaviour has tended to be modest.  This is clear from the sections in financial reports from Australian companies listed on the stock exchange that cover social and environmental initiatives. For example, only a fraction of Australian firms report transparently, using suggested guidelines when publishing annual reports. Instead, there are carefully tailored public relations documents, fancy media campaigns, and glossy reports that showcase the firm’s social good deeds. This weighting of image over substance, and spin over objectivity, leaves us questioning whether social initiatives today are simply window dressing.

Waste and the Circular Economy

‘Great Pacific garbage patch’ far bigger than imagined, aerial survey shows
The vast patch of garbage floating in the Pacific Ocean is far worse than previously thought, with an aerial survey finding a much larger mass of fishing nets, plastic containers and other discarded items than imagined.

‘We opened the door and we saw the debris everywhere. Every half-second you see something.’ Photograph: Ocean Cleanup

‘We opened the door and we saw the debris everywhere. Every half-second you see something.’ Photograph: Ocean Cleanup

Politics and Society

By failing to rein in climate change, our children’s rights are being disregarded
…Global emissions of greenhouse gases have increased by 60% since 1988. While [NASA scientist, James] Hansen’s testimony is responsible for a significant increase in people’s awareness of climate change, the consequences appear yet to sink in.  Twenty six years later, Hansen is now seeking to have his day in court to effectively force the US government to significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Next month the district court of Oregon will rule whether to allow Hansen’s and 21 young American citizen’s case against the US government to proceed to trial.

Millennials Want Sustainable Development Goals
Millennials make up a significant portion of today’s target business audience. Millennials are the 2 billion people born between the early 1980s and 2000. 81% of millennials believe business has a key role to play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the guiding business practices shaped by world leaders from 193 nations as outcome from the COP21 summit in Paris.  That’s according to findings in a report called “Advancing the Sustainable Development Goals: Business Action and Millennials’ Views.”

The Indonesian waste pickers trading trash for healthcare
Aged 70, Tuna has pains in her leg, waist and chest, but her income as a garlic picker put even the most basic medical provision beyond reach. Until her neighbour told her about a “free” medical clinic in the neighbourhood. The cost: 10,000 Indonesian rupiah (£0.59) a month, paid for from cash raised from her recyclable rubbish. Garbage Clinical Insurance is the brainchild of award-winning healthcare entrepreneur Gamal Albinsaid, CEO of health company Indonesia Medika. In a country where more than 10% live below the poverty line, the scheme encourages low-income households to recycle their rubbish and uses the revenues to finance a health micro-insurance system.

South Australian blackout: renewables aren’t a threat to energy security, they’re the future
In the wake of South Australia’s wild weather and state-wide blackout, both Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg have emphasised the importance of energy security.  Turnbull stated that the blackout was a wake-up call, suggesting that reliance on renewables places very different strains and pressures on a grid than traditional coal-fired power. The assumption that these politicians and others are working off is that South Australia’s wind industry has reduced the state’s energy security.  But do these politicians really know what energy security means in a modern energy landscape?

Related news:

Whale rescued from shark nets off Surfers Paradise
AUSTRALIA – Another whale has been rescued from a a shark net off the Gold Coast, with rescue teams releasing the calf within an hour of it coming into grief. The whale was trapped on Tuesday afternoon off Surfers Paradise.

Built Environment

NZ: Electric vehicles get a boost from BMW
BMW is investing in growing uptake of electric vehicles in New Zealand, entering into a partnership arrangement with Charge Net NZ to develop a national EV charging network that will stretch around the country. Funds for the initiative are coming via BMW AG in Munich. The BMW-Charge Net “Electric Highway” will be centred on NZ’s major cities and will enable an EV to drive around the country using a network of DC fast-charge stations stretching from Kaitaia to Invercargill.

New design guide for mid-rise timber buildings released
AUSTRALIA – A new timber design guide for mid-rise buildings aims to help designers, architects, engineers and other built environment professionals to act on the recent changes to the National Construction Code. The changes from 1 May 2016 made timber construction systems suitable for the Deemed-to-Satisfy pathway for class 2, 3 and 5 buildings up to 25 metres in height, which is generally between four and eight stories, depending on the floor-to-ceiling ratio. The provisions cover both traditional lightweight timber framing and engineered timber systems including cross-laminated timber and glulam.

Sustainability wins and cars lose in updated Fishermans Bend vision
AUSTRALIA – Open space within 200 metres of all residents, 80 per cent active travel and green buildings have been named as key ambitions of the Fishermans Bend urban renewal project, a final vision document released by the Victorian Government this week has revealed. The 485-hectare area near Melbourne’s CBD is set to be the largest urban transformation in Australia, with expectations it will be home to 80,000 residents and 60,000 workers by 2050.

Food Systems

Trimming the excess: how cutting down on junk food could help save the environment
Looking for a new reason to cut down on “junk” food? Besides the obvious health-related benefits, I showed in a recent study that discretionary or junk foods make up a significant proportion of food-related environmental impacts.  For an average Australian household, my research found that discretionary food contribute 33-39% of diet-related water use, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and land use. Why is this a problem? In a warming world with a growing population and dwindling resources, we can no longer afford discretionary consumption that harms both our own and the planet’s health.

Mellow yellow? The mood and cognitive effects of curcumin from turmeric
Curcumin is the component of turmeric (Curcuma longa) that gives the spice its bright yellow colour. It is one of more than 5,000 flavonoids, a group of plant-based compounds thought to contribute to the health benefits of fruit and vegetables… Around 150 curcumin studies are under way to investigate the effects of curcumin (alone or in combination with other drugs) on cancer, heart disease, diabetes and dementia. While any meaningful clinical effects are far from proven, at least the trials have a scientific foundation.


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