Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Uplifting news today with our top story showing that the 5p UK plastic bag levy, which led to an 85% drop in the use of plastic bags, has also resulted in 30% less plastic in the ocean around the UK.  In energy the amount of money being spent on renewable energy installations far outweighed what was spent on fossil fuels in 2017 and looks to continue this year.  Engineers say Australia will be fossil fuel free within two decades (depending on political will of course).

Top Story

Drop in plastic bags littering British seas linked to introduction of 5p charge | The Guardian
UK – A big drop in plastic bags found in the seas around Britain has been credited to the introduction of charges for plastic bags across Europe. Ireland and Denmark were the first two countries to bring in levies for plastic bags from shops in 2003, followed by slew of other European countries. England was the last UK nation to introduce one, in 2015. In the first such study of its kind, scientists have found an approximately 30% drop in plastic bags on the seabed in a large area from close to Norway and Germany to northern France, and west to Ireland. The authors of the study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, claim the drop in plastic bag pollution, measured from 2010 – about the mid-point of charging policies coming into force – showed the power of such levies.

Read also: Plastic bag litter falls in UK seas | BBC News 

Climate Change and Energy

Global solar installations smash fossil fuels over the past year | Climate Action Programme
Solar power took another step towards global domination last year with a record 98 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity coming online. This astonishing figure was more than the amount of new coal, gas and nuclear plants put together. Net fossil fuel installations only reached 70GW in 2017. Fresh analysis has been provided by UN Environment, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and the Frankfurt School’s UNEP Collaborating Centre.
Related: New renewable energy capacity double fossil fuel growth in record-breaking 2017: UN report | ABC News 

Tumbling Costs for Wind, Solar, Batteries Are Squeezing Fossil Fuels | Bloomberg New Energy Finance
Latest BNEF study of comparative costs worldwide shows an 18% improvement in the competitiveness of onshore wind and solar in the last year, and new and rapidly developing roles for batteries.

Australian rooftop solar boom rolls on – 351MW in first quarter | One Step Off The Grid
Australia’s boom in rooftop solar shows no sign of slowing down, in fact it is accelerating, with 127MW installed in March and a record 351MW in the first quarter of 2018. According to industry statistician SunWiz, this total for the first three months of the year is 56 per cent of last year, 33 per cent ahead of the previous record first quarter (in 2013), and more than double the “miserable” performance of 2016.

Community-funded power ‘doable’, leading energy expert says | ABC News
One of the country’s chief independent energy experts has called on state and federal governments to come up with strategies and policies to deal with the emergence of community-funded power projects. Energy program director at the Grattan Institute, Tony Wood, said making sure there is a reliable, secure electricity system while at the same time allowing communities to embrace renewable energy, is “doable”.

Solar PV and wind are on track to replace all coal, oil and gas within two decades | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Solar photovoltaic and wind power are rapidly getting cheaper and more abundant – so much so that they are on track to entirely supplant fossil fuels worldwide within two decades, with the time frame depending mostly on politics. The protestation from some politicians that we need to build new coal stations sounds rather quaint.  The reality is that the rising tide of solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind energy offers our only realistic chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.  No other greenhouse solution comes close, and it is very hard to envision any timely response to climate change that does not involve PV and wind doing most of the heavy lifting.

Documents shed light on BP’s failures in the Great Australian Bight | Climate Home News
AUSTRALIA – BP’s plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight were controversial from the outset. Even more so after the regulator twice rejected its environmental safety plan. For the first time, Climate Home News can reveal why. Government documents have been released under freedom of information laws, nearly two years after they were requested. BP had tried to suppress the information. A major oil spill in the sensitive seascape would pollute up to 750km of beaches and shoreline, according to BP’s own modelling, and the company thought drilling may disrupt migration of the endangered southern right whale.

Environment and Biodiversity

Climate change threatens rare British orchid that tricks bees into mating | The Guardian
UK – It is one of the most cunning and elaborate reproductive deceits: the early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) wafts a floral bouquet into the air that mimics the irresistible scent of a virgin female solitary mining bee, tricking gullible male bees into attempting intercourse with several flowers, thereby ensuring the plant’s pollination. But the sexual success of this rare and declining orchid in Britain is imperilled by climate change, researchers have found. The orchid’s ruse only works if a female mining bee, Andrena nigroaenea, has not emerged from hibernation, because as soon as this happens, the orchid cannot compete with the alluring scent of the real thing – and the plant is ignored by the male bees.

The early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) tricks male bees into attempting intercourse, ensuring the plant’s pollination. Photograph: Hector Ruiz/Alamy Stock Photo

The early spider orchid (Ophrys sphegodes) tricks male bees into attempting intercourse, ensuring the plant’s pollination. Photograph: Hector Ruiz/Alamy Stock Photo


Government cans Canterbury and Marlborough funding for irrigation schemes |
NEW ZEALAND – The Government will cut funding to the three major irrigation projects in Canterbury and Marlborough. Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced on Thursday afternoon that the Government would stop funding the Hurunui, Hunter Downs and Flaxbourne projects through Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd as part of its Confidence and Supply Agreement with the Green Party.

It’s not perfect but implementing Murray-Darling plan in full can work | The Guardian (Opinion)
AUSTRALIA – The Murray-Darling basin plan is designed to recover 3,200bn litres of water per year to improve river health. This is not sufficient to restore all the elements that Australians value, like the Coorong wetland, nor does it address the looming threats from climate change to water availability and use. Despite this, the Wentworth Group supports the plan. If successful, it will be a historically significant step towards more sustainable industries, towns and the environment in the basin.

Waste and the Circular Economy

China’s plastic ban: Exports to other parts of Asia soar | Radio New Zealand News
NEW ZEALAND – China stopped accepting 24 different types of waste, including plastic and paper, at the start of this year because it said contaminants were polluting its environment. In the first three months of 2017 New Zealand exported $1.7 million dollars worth of plastic to China – during the same period this year that dropped to $100,000. But other countries are willing to take the rubbish that China won’t.

Microfactories can turn Australia’s waste crisis to gold mines | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Sites as small as 50 square metres could be transformed into “microfactories” that can process waste into valuable, sellable products, thanks to new technology out of the University of NSW’s Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT). On Wednesday, the world’s first small, modular recycling plant was launched by NSW environment minister Gabrielle Upton at the university, focused on e-waste. The plant is capable of breaking down e-waste into products like metal alloys, nanoparticles for industrial-grade ceramics and filaments for 3D printing.

Politics and Society

The global youth movement is gaining momentum | World Economic Forum
The recent March for Our Lives in the United States inspired millions not just across America, but also around the world. Until the nationwide demonstrations on March 24, most people thought that little new could be added to the conversation about the seemingly endless rounds of gun killings. Yet the brave and moving way in which, out of their anguish and pain, young people told the world that decisions on gun laws and safe schools are too important to be left to adults who had let them down has reshaped the political landscape, perhaps permanently and fundamentally.

Young people across the globe are standing up for causes they believe in. Image: REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Young people across the globe are standing up for causes they believe in. Image: REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Air pollution: UK government’s failed legal battles cost taxpayers £500,000 | The Guardian
UK – The UK government has spent more than half a million pounds on failed legal battles against clean air campaigners, according to newly released documents that underline the cost of weak action on pollution. The figures – obtained under a freedom of information request by the Labour party – show repeated court defeats are hurting taxpayers in addition to the growing health impact of air pollution, which kills as many as 40,000 people a year.

Built Environment

UK sales of diesel cars decline by 37% in one year | Climate Action Programme
UK – Sales of diesel cars have plummeted in the UK as “economic and political uncertainty” over the government’s air quality plans are dampening confidence, according to the motor industry’s trade body. Overall car registrations were also down by 15.7 percent as many buyers sought to purchase vehicles before new tax rates were introduced seeking to discourage diesel usage. By contrast, cleaner forms of transport in the shape of plug-in and hybrid electric vehicles continued to rise. Overall the entire fleet increased by 5.7 percent on last year, although hybrids shot up by 18.2 percent.

Melbourne takes inspiration from Barcelona as car-free zones proposed | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – The City of Melbourne has suggested creating car-free CBD zones, reducing traffic speed to 30 kilometres an hour and increasing the time given to pedestrian movement, as part of an ambitious Transport Strategy refresh looking out to 2050. The council on Thursday released two discussion papers on its new strategy, focused on walking and city space. The walking paper said that the city had growing issues to do with overcrowding, pedestrian delays, security and restricted mobility, which were an amenity issue and economic burden on the city. Increasing connectivity of the pedestrian network, the paper said, could result in an economic uplift to the tune of $2.1 billion.

Social licence to operate front and centre in ISCA’s rating tool update | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Six years after being launched, the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia’s (ISCA) rating tool is getting an update, with “social licence to operate” to become an important addition. The Infrastructure Sustainability (IS) rating tool provides an assessment of an infrastructure asset’s sustainability performance.

Speaking with: Cameron McAuliffe on NIMBYs, urban planning and making community consultation work | The Conversation (Audio 22:43)
AUSTRALIA – Dallas Rogers speaks with Cameron McAuliffe, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography and Urban Studies at Western Sydney University, about how urban planning can leverage the natural conflict between groups with very different demands to reach better solutions, why the NIMBY slur is often misplaced and how local resident action groups are working beyond the current urban planning system to achieve their goals.

Food Systems

Marine farmer strikes ‘brown gold’ turning kelp water into wine |
NEW ZEALAND – It might sound like the latest health drink to hit the market, but you probably don’t want to drink this nutritious tonic. Marine farmer Mick Norton stumbled onto his natural kelp tea back in 1991 after he investigated New Zealand’s native giant kelp for commercial use. Although the tea, a mixture of kelp and fresh water, doesn’t do much for people, it’s a game-changer for grapevines.


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