Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

Smithsonian publishes first official statement on climate change
The Smithsonian Institution, a renowned group of US museums and research centres, has published its first official statement on climate change, warning the world of its unsustainable course. Pointing to the wealth of evidence linking rising global temperatures to manmade emissions, the institution calls for more to be done to educate the public about the severity of the crisis. “What we realised at the Smithsonian is that many people think that climate change is just an environmental topic,” said John Kress, acting undersecretary of science at the Smithsonian. “It’s much more than that. Climate change will affect everything.”

Beautiful Aerial Photos Of Doomed Vacation Beaches, Captured Before They Disappear
Italy’s beach culture is not the most serious thing threatened by climate change. But it would be sad to see this go. By the end of the century, the narrow stretches of sand may slowly begin to disappear. In a new series of photos, German photographer Bernhard Lang captures what the beaches near Rimini, Italy look like now.

Survey finds Great Barrier Reef coral losing strength
The skeleton hand of ocean acidification has been found at work near one of Australia’s most exotic tropical destinations, Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Scientists surveying a reef flat just south of the resort island, off Cooktown, have measured a near 40 per cent decline in deposition of the vital building block for healthy coral, calcium carbonate. The fall, detected by a team from Israel’s Hebrew University, underscores the need for rapid action to arrest ocean acidification caused by climate change, Australian marine scientist Ove Hoegh-Guldberg said on Friday.

Different depths reveal ocean warming trends
The deeper half of the ocean did not get measurably warmer in the last decade, but surface layers have been warming faster than we thought since the 1970s, two new studies suggest. Because the sea absorbs 90% of the heat caused by human activity, its warmth is a central concern in climate science. The new work suggests that shallow layers bear the brunt of ocean warming. Scientists compared temperature data, satellite measurements of sea level, and results from climate models. Both the papers appear in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Environment and Biodiversity

The week in wildlife – in pictures
Blue-tailed bee-eaters, beavers and fighting squirrels are among the pick of this week’s images from the natural world.

World failing to meet biodiversity targets: study
Globally, biodiversity is in trouble, and new research shows that the situation is unlikely to improve over the next five years. Researchers from around the world analysed global progress towards meeting the 20 international “Aichi Biodiversity Targets” by 2020 as set under the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010. The results were published today in Science. The mid-decade analysis found that while knowledge of the biodiversity crisis had greatly improved, more action is needed to reduce pressure on biodiversity and preserve ecosystems.

In the Age of Extinction, which species can we least afford to lose?
Biodiversity loss has now reached “critical levels”. Some populations of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians have suffered even bigger losses, with freshwater species declining by 76% over the same period. But it’s the creatures that provide the most “natural capital” or “ecosystem services” that are getting many scientists really worried. Three quarters of the world’s food production is thought to depend on bees and other pollinators such as hoverflies. Never mind how cute a panda is or how stunning a tiger, it’s worms that are grinding up our waste and taking it deep into the soil to turn into nutrients, bats that are catching mosquitoes and keeping malaria rates down. A study in North America has valued the loss of pest control from ongoing bat declines at more than $22bn in lost agricultural productivity.

8 years later: the state of the bees
About 8 years ago, the first reports of Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a phenomenon that led to the sharp decline of bee populations around the world, began flooding in. Beekeepers were losing 30-90 percent of their colonies and scientists couldn’t figure it out. Since then, bees have made the headlines (including ours) many times. Scientists have developed many theories to explain CCD and steps have been taken in some countries to reduce factors that may be affecting bees (like pesticides containing neonicotinoids). After all this time, the problem has not been resolved.  In a short documentary, the New York Times looks at the development of the bee crisis and where the crisis stands today.

The Convention on Biodiversity and the Nagoya Protocol: Intellectual Property Implications (UN Report)
The conservation of biological diversity 1 and the ability to continue to use biological resources sustainably are amongst the most pressing issues that the world currently faces.  Balancing the protection of ecosystems, which involve a plethora of animal, plant and microbial species, with sustainable development objectives demands a systematic response at the international, regional, national and sub-national levels by a myriad of actors. The effective preservation of biodiversity cannot be met through environmental protection laws alone.  A critical problem is one of in coherence – i.e., the situation where laws, policies and regulations designed to protect biodiversity and to encourage its sustainable use and development are not established in a consistent and mutually supportive manner with laws, policies and regulations in other domains, such as industrial policy or intellectual property (IP), that have an impact on biodiversity.

Climate change leaves damselfish in distress
A breed of tropical Australian fish is  not coping with rising carbon dioxide levels in the ocean. A study from scientists at James Cook University shows increased carbon dioxide levels impaired the senses of spiny damselfish, which live in the Great Barrier Reef. Fish exposed to higher carbon dioxide levels – which are expected to increase in the oceans for several decades  – showed impaired cognitive function, learning difficulties, slowed visual capacity and altered sense of smell and sound.

Energy Australia diverts Burra, SA wind farm project to protect endangered pygmy bluetongue lizard
A national energy company building a wind farm has planned the project so as not to disturb colonies of a tiny endangered lizard. The populations of pygmy bluetongue lizards have meant Energy Australia will divert roads and other infrastructure to their proposed project in South Australia near Burra.

Economy and Business

Building a new economics for the #Occupy generation
One important legacy the financial crisis has left us with is a new generation which is no longer satisfied with learning the economics which got this so wrong. No young person who has witnessed or participated in the #Occupy protests around the world – such as the one taking place in Hong Kong  now – can remain wedded to a curriculum which fails to evolve in their wake. One response has been the CORE project, which has brought together economists – including me – from around the world to change the old way of doing things. Funded by the Institute for New Economic Thinking in New York and based at Oxford Martin School we have developed an ebook, The Economy, which is designed to give students a set of economic concepts, many of which are missing from conventional teaching, and which they can use to address central economic problems of our day.

Learning and growing with respect for all
Of 80 young men and women applying each year to go to Smedley Station, the agricultural training farm running sheep, cattle and deer in the Central Hawke’s Bay [New Zealand] hills, only 11 are chosen. Once there they come under the spell of station manager Terry Walters, his wife Judy and their team of managers. It’s two years they will never forget, says Walters. “They play hard and they also work bloody hard.” One word sums up the station and its training programme: Respect.  “It’s respect for the farm, the training staff, their fellow cadets, their gear, their dogs, their horse,” he says.  And it’s respect for the environment. Each year, the totara-studded farm retires a little more bush and locks it away in a covenant with the Queen Elizabeth II Trust. The cadets do the fencing, they spray the gorse and weeds and they trap the possums.  It’s how they learn the meaning of that buzzword, sustainability, Walters says.  “It’s see, touch and feel. It’s a physical experience, it’s the blisters on their hands, it’s hearing the native birds calling.

Emma Watson and back sustainable fashion
Celebrity endorsement is one of the advertising world’s most popular tools. Having a widely admired athlete, actress or musician attached to your product can work wonders in gaining the attention and trust of consumers. As sustainable designers reach near breakneck speed in terms of juggling everything from sourcing environmentally friendly materials to ethical production standards, there is one consistent they dream of: celebrity backing. Here, we’ve rounded up 10 celebrities who have put their name to sustainable fashion.

New Patagonia Collection Returning ‘Truth to Materials’
Patagonia has launched Truth to Materials — a capsule collection for Fall/Winter featuring seven styles of jackets, sweaters and scarves made from raw, reclaimed or alternatively sourced materials. The company says the collection represents “radical new methods of manufacturing” — it features fabrics such as undyed cashmere, and reclaimed cotton, wool and down. “Truth to Materials honors the purest form of a material possible, be it minimally processed cashmere and wool, or going beyond organic by reusing cutting room scrap that was otherwise destined for the landfill,” Global PR Manager Jess Clayton said in a post.

Waste and the Circular Economy

In China, people are protesting about the government’s rubbish policy on waste incineration
Protests against a proposed waste incinerator power plant involving thousands of residents took place in southern China over two weekends in mid-September. The demonstrations, in Boluo county, Guangdong province, were the largest yet against a project that has caused numerous smaller demonstrations since its environmental impact assessment was formally released two years ago. A government plan detailing the likely site for the plant was released in June this year, increasing opposition to the proposal. Investment in waste incinerators is seen as a solution to the inability of China’s infrastructure to handle the mountains of trash the country produces. The number of incineration projects has risen steadily and by last year between 15% and 20% of the country’s household waste was burned. The government intends to double this to 35% by 2015.

Politics and Society

Book review: Naomi Klein finds kernels of hope amid climate change and untamed capitalism
Naomi Klein’s third attack on capitalism, This Changes Everything, has put the urgency of climate change front and centre. As ever for Klein, unrestrained capitalism is the root problem and has to be dealt with, however difficult that might be – and however much money and power is propping it up. Our response so far has been hopeless, but she is able to point to recent signs that we might yet achieve the radical change we need: push hard now is the message.

Think twice about wild animal tourism, visitors told
A leading animal charity is calling on tourists to think twice before they take part in wild animal experiences, as part of a campaign to expose the hidden suffering behind many attractions. The campaign by World Animal Protection, which launches today in conjunction with World Animal Day, draws on research that found almost half of people pay for a wild animal experience because they love animals, but they remain unaware of the abuse that goes on behind the scenes.

Real time advertising could play role in sustainable behaviour change
If you read the marketing press at all, you will have heard of a new trend in “real time advertising”. If not, you’ll be aware of sites asking you to opt into cookies, or being followed around the internet by shoes you almost bought a week ago. A recent campaign, designed to increase sales of Vodafone roaming packages in the Netherlands over the summer reportedly improved conversion rates by 198%. If buying behaviour can be changed in this way, could other behaviours? Could real time advertising be used to act as nudges towards more sustainable behaviour? Given the industry is advancing at such a rate, the question may not be “what could we do with this technology?”, but rather “what should we do with it?”

Greens-Palmer deal: a roadblock for environmental one-stop shop
The Greens have secured a deal with the Palmer United Party (PUP) and Labor that effectively kills the federal government’s plan to hand its environmental approval powers to the states under its “one-stop shop” policy. The Greens appear to have played a deft hand and achieved a significant victory for environmental protection in Australia by stopping the handover of federal approvals to the states. This comes with the added bonus for the Greens of tacking an investigation into major environmental approvals in Queensland into the coming senate inquiry.

Grieving could offer a pathway out of a destructive economic system
Our decision to value above all else comfort, convenience and a superficial view of happiness, has led to feelings of disassociation and numbness and as a result we bury our grief deep within our subconscious. The consequence is not only a compulsion to consume even more in an attempt to hide our guilt but also a projection of our hidden pain onto the world around us and at the deepest level, the Earth itself.  Just take the recent news from WWF and the Zoological Society of London that we have decimated half of all creatures across land, rivers and the seas over the past 40 years. We read this and perhaps shake our heads in dismay, and then consume the next news story. The question we should all be asking is why aren’t we on the floor doubled up in pain at our capacity for industrial scale genocide of the world’s species.

Mindfulness: how to be in the moment … right here, right now
“Remember then: there is only one time that is important – Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.”  This quote by Leo Tolstoy in What Men Live By and Other Tales is valuable wisdom and a fitting prompt for us to take this moment to intentionally direct our attention to what is actually happening now.  Mindfulness is commonly defined as paying purposeful attention to one’s moment-to-moment experience in a non-judgemental and accepting way.  Mindfulness can be considered to be a natural capacity of the human mind. But because we typically shape our mind to wander and be distracted, mindfulness must be cultivated by regularly engaging in techniques that explicitly promote paying attention to the moment.


The 10 stuff-ups we all make when interpreting research
UNDERSTANDING RESEARCH: What do we actually mean by research and how does it help inform our understanding of things? Understanding what’s being said in any new research can be challenging and there are some common mistakes that people make. Have you ever tried to interpret some new research to work out what the study means in the grand scheme of things? Well maybe you’re smart and didn’t make any mistakes – but more likely you’re like most humans and accidentally made one of these 10 stuff ups.

Built Environment

‘Smart Cities’ in India also need to be Livable
With more than half of the global population now living in urban areas, some in abject poverty, the path to sustainable development must pass through cities. In a meeting in July, the Working Group for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals set a target to build ‘inclusive, safe resilient and sustainable’ cities and human settlements. India is embracing this push for smart cities. By most estimates the level of urbanisation will reach 50 per cent in India by 2039. To manage this change, India would have to spend US$1.2 trillion in its urban areas over the next 20 years. But, surprisingly, there is neither an internationally accepted definition of a ‘smart city’, nor does India have any national policy on urbanisation in the first place.

Flood damage to cities expected to cost $1tn by 2050
Two years after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the mid-Atlantic and northeastern US in late October 2012, the region is still recovering from the 159 lives lost and the estimated $65bn in damage. This anniversary and the continued reclamation work are a reminder to cities around the world that urban resilience requires long-term planning and continuous investment if we are ever to avoid repeating history. This new reality of our changeable climate means that, sadly, situations like Sandy are no longer once in a lifetime events that affect a handful of geographies. Urban resilience is a global issue that requires a consistent and sustained response.

Food Systems

Food shortages are everyone’s responsibility The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicted five years ago that we will need to produce 70% more food by 2050, and called for enhanced investment in sustainable agricultural production. That pronouncement sparked much debate about the need to build a more sustainable food system. But what do we mean by sustainability? What are the roles of industry, government and consumers? And what are the tools and models we will need?

Here’s Why We Haven’t Quite Figured Out How to Feed Billions More People
Solving the world’s looming food crisis will require big investments in agricultural research, yet public support for that is lagging. …yield improvements have slowed during the past 20 years, and public spending on agricultural research in developed nations such as the United States and those in Europe has flattened. That’s a daunting combination at a time when the world’s population is soaring toward 11 billion by 2100 and when several parts of the world—from California’s Central Valley to Brazil’s southern region around São Paolo—are suffering through history-making droughts that have emptied reservoirs and damaged crops. More than 400,000 acres of food-growing lands have been left fallow in California.

Aquaponics: a sustainable solution to food insecurity?
Aquaponics is a way of producing food that combines aquaculture (farming aquatic animals such as snails and fish) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment. The aquatic animals feed on the plants, and the water is fed through a system which breaks down the fishes’ excretions into nitrates and nitrites, which are nutrients for the plants. So there’s no need to buy extra food for the fish. “Aquaponics has huge potential to be used by developing countries – both as commercial ventures and a way to provide food,” says Leslie Ter Morshuizen, owner and founder of Aquaculture Innovations.


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