Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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UN publishes draft of slimmed-down Paris climate change deal
A new draft of the potential global agreement on climate change, to be negotiated this December in Paris, has been published by the United Nations. The text is a crucial step forward for the talks, as previous versions of the draft were judged to be too long and unwieldy for negotiators to grapple with in time for the December deadline… From more than 90 pages earlier this year, the new core text has been slimmed down to just 20 pages, with a supplementary document of three pages on ways to up countries’ emissions-cutting targets before 2020.

Energy and Climate Change

The Guardian view on the Paris climate change summit: reasons to be cheerful
Reliable weather forecasting is notoriously difficult. But with two months to go, it looks as if the sun may shine on the Paris climate change summit in December. This is the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the climate change agreement. The first was opened in Berlin in 1995 by Germany’s environment minister, a young Angela Merkel, and that the political and economic landscape looks so favourable owes something to her lasting commitment. Agreement is not a done deal, but countries responsible for 75% of the world’s carbon emissions have now set targets for cuts in carbon emissions.

Storage can replace gas in our electricity networks and boost renewables
Energy storage could replace peak gas in our electricity network. That’s the finding of a study that my colleagues and I recently published in the Journal of Applied Energy. Energy storage is often considered the holy grail of the electricity sector. Tesla’s Powerwall home battery system, for instance, allows households to store energy from solar panels, to be used when the sun isn’t shining. It is seen as a vital piece of the puzzle in a future with more renewable energy. Storage is great for households, but could also be as important in the wider electricity network. Here’s how it could work.

Four ways demand flexibility can enable a low-carbon grid
Earlier this week the seventh annual Climate Week NYC concluded… Much of the discussion around reducing the grid’s emissions focuses on existing power plants powered by coal and gas, versus new renewables, such as wind and solar. It’s true that to realize large-scale emissions reductions, we need to re-imagine the supply side of the electricity equation. But it’s important we don’t forget about the demand side, which is a powerful lever in our toolkit to reduce emissions.

How fairer solar tariffs would clean up grid
The fact that most Australian households with solar PV installed on their rooftops are being ripped off for the power they export to the grid has been reiterated in a new paper published today by energy and environment policy expert, Alan Pears. The report – a submission to the Victorian government on its proposed Renewable Energy Roadmap – notes that in that state, as in many others in Australia, the current levy on PV exports to the grid pays rooftop solar owners around 6 cents/kWh, which is then resold to (mostly) nearby consumers at 20 to 30 cents/kWh, leaving 15-25 cents/kWh to be shared as a “windfall profit” by the retailer and network operator.

Cement and steel industries need ‘urgent’ introduction of CCS technologies
Europe’s energy-intensive industries such as cement and steel are in ‘urgent need’ of innovative carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology if they are to reach EU-wide emission targets by 2050, a new report has found.  The report, developed over several years by researchers at Chalmers University of Technologyin Sweden, concludes that there is the potential to reduce emissions by between 60%-75% from large industry sources if the full potential of emerging CCS technologies was realised and implemented; a target that is in line with the emissions targets set for 2050.

Environment and Biodiversity

Asian haze set to become worst on record
Bangkok: Malaysia has ordered all schools to close for two days as choking haze blanketing a large swathe of south-east Asia is on track to become the worst on record. The fog-like grey smoke caused by slash and burn techniques used to clear Indonesian forests has for weeks caused health problems, flight delays and school closures in Singapore and parts of Indonesia and Malaysia.

Wildlife thriving around Chernobyl nuclear plant despite radiation
Wildlife is abundant around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear plant, despite the presence of radiation released by the world’s most catastrophic nuclear explosion nearly three decades ago, researchers have found. The number of elk, deer and wild boar within the Belarusian half of the Chernobyl exclusion zone today are around the same as those in four nearby uncontaminated nature reserves.  Wolves, which are commonly hunted in the region because of their impact on livestock, were seven times as abundant with the zone, according to a study published on Monday… “What we do, our everyday habitation of an area – agriculture, forestry – they’ve damaged wildlife more than the world’s worst nuclear accident,” said Prof Jim Smith, professor of environmental science, University of Portsmouth, and one of the paper’s authors.

Chile Creates Largest Marine Reserve in the Americas
Valparaiso, CHILE—The Chilean government on Monday announced that it has created the largest marine reserve in the Americas by protecting an area hundreds of miles off its coast roughly the size of Italy. The new area, called the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park, constitutes about eight percent of the ocean areas worldwide that have been declared off-limits to fishing and governed by no-take protections, says Russell Moffitt, a conservation analyst with the Marine Conservation Institute in Seattle, Washington.

Famous faces get behind native birds
Te Radar, David Farrier, Heather du-Plessis Allan and Duncan Garner are just some of the New Zealanders championing their favourite native bird in Forest & Bird’s annual Bird of the Year competition, which kicks off today. Now in its 10th year, the competition raises awareness for New Zealand’s much loved native birds and the threats they face… Voting began at 9am today and would close at 5pm on October 25. The winner would be announced on October 26, said Ms Collins. Follow the competition online.

Does nature have value beyond what it provides humans?
You can drive a nail with a hammer, and you can pull one. With a pencil you can write a poem or a song. Hammers and pencils are clearly useful – instrumentally valuable, that is. But if the pencil snaps or the hammer cracks, then it’s off to the trash heap. Your daughter is different. She may be useful in mowing the lawn and providing a tax write-off, but she also possesses value far beyond her utility. Daughters are also intrinsically valuable. What about the intrinsic value of nature? Does nature have only pencil- and hammer-like values, or does nature also possess intrinsic value?

Economy and Business

Trans-Pacific Partnership: Pacific nation ministers, negotiators lock in major trade deal
Pacific nation ministers and negotiators have locked in a major Pacific trade deal after days of marathon talks in the US city of Atlanta. The 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership covers 40 per cent of the global economy and could reshape industries and influence everything from the price of cheese to the cost of cancer treatments… Japan’s prime minister said late on Monday evening a dozen nations had reached “broad agreement” on the TPP, which aims to service the world’s largest free-trade zone.

More:  TPP deal: New Zealand and 11 other countries strike Pacific trade pact

The world needs better knowledge sharing on climate threat
CKB was spearheaded by the UK’s Climate and Development Knowledge Network and two organizations from Germany: the GIZ and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. It launched with just 21 entities aimed at sharing knowledge and pooling resources, and it has since grown to more than 100 members — spawning countless cooperative initiatives and reaching its own consensus on the need for more of the same. That consensus led to the creation of the Climate Knowledge Brokers Manifesto, which CKB loaded to its web site this morning. An eight-page introductory is available here, and both are eminently readable.

Volkswagen and the perils of not keeping it real
The economic and political clout of the global corporation is growing constantly, going well beyond regional or national boundaries. With globalization, a company’s purpose defined solely around profit is inadequately articulated because it does not reflect the world’s vastly changing dynamic.  Like it or not, companies are fundamentally social institutions, playing their own explicit and defined role within society. For a long time, their purpose was defined — not so much as promoting the common good, but as meeting market needs while making a profit as an indicator that they added more value to society than the resources they used up. However, as of late, some prominent business leaders — but by far not enough — have realized that companies simply cannot do business as usual on a failing planet with dwindling resources and rising social inequity.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Paul Evans: The waste minimisation champion
For a country that prides itself on being “clean and green”, New Zealand’s track record on waste is pretty rotten. We rank poorly in the OECD when it comes to both progressive waste policies and the environmental impact of our waste. According to Paul Evans, CEO of WasteMINZ, the largest representative body of New Zealand’s waste and resource recovery sectors, the challenges hindering our waste industry performance are threefold.

Plastic bag charge: is there really panic on the streets?
Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast seemed to manage perfectly well with a 5p bag charge, but Monday’s Daily Mail predicts “chaos” because retail staff could struggle with the complex rules. As Monday marks the start of the charge for plastic bags in England, is there panic on the streets? We got our 5p pieces ready and ventured out to the shops.

Can NASA’s far-out travel plans bring sustainability to Spaceship Earth?
America’s space agency is going long. Its next generation of explorations will send travelers on journeys beyond the moon, to Mars and maybe beyond. What on Earth does this have to do with sustainability? In a word: Everything… they’ll have to take what they can in order to be self-sufficient, perhaps for years. All of which requires a new generation of technologies to provide everything from life’s essentials such as breathable air, clean water, energy and food; to everyday comforts, such as clean clothes and personal hygiene; to tools and materials that astronauts will need to build things when they get where they’re going to set up shop on another heavenly body. All using ingredients and materials that are nontoxic, efficient and that can be endlessly put back into service.

Politics and Society

Twelve Questions: with Dr Tom Trnski, head of natural science at Auckland War Memorial Museum
Dr Tom Trnski is head of natural science at Auckland Museum and has a keen interest in fish. This month, he heads to the Kermadec Islands on a research expedition.

1. You moved to New Zealand from Sydney in 2007. Is the culture here very different?
Yes and no. Two things: one is that the brand of “natural New Zealand” is a fallacy, so that really shocked me. I’ve explored the entire North Island and a little bit of the South – there’s very little natural landscape left. It’s either turned into forests with introduced trees, with their own consequences, or there’s heavy intensification of farming. Australia is a dry continent with huge erosion problems. New Zealand has young fertile soil, high in nutrients, but I’ve actually seen erosion here worse than anything I’ve seen in Australia, and it’s quite horrifying…

Council contract for gang kingpin
NEW ZEALAND – A Black Power kingpin with multiple prison stints behind him has won a $52,500 council contract to maintain several areas of Dunedin’s public land. But although council staff called the move a “leap of faith”, they said it was also a chance to give the man’s children something other than gang life to aspire to.

FactCheck Q&A: Will China have a 150% increase in carbon emissions on 2005 levels by 2030?
China from 2005, I think to 2030, will have 150% increase in carbon emissions with their trading scheme. We will have between a 26 and 28% reduction in our emissions on 2005 levels without a trading scheme under our current process. – Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, speaking on Q&A, September 28, 2015.

There are two things worth checking here: the source of Joyce’s figures and the appropriateness of comparing China and Australia’s projected emissions. On the first: his quote reflects figures from a recent government report, but the projected 150% increase in China’s emissions is at the upper end of estimates. It rests on some radical assumptions about, for example, the pace of China’s economic growth. On the second point: comparing China’s projected emissions output with Australia’s is like comparing apples and oranges. It tells us little about the wisdom or otherwise of introducing an emissions trading scheme in Australia.

Climate change is a global problem. Climate action is a local solution (Opinion)
As state and federal governments continue to fail at halting climate change at the global and national levels, smaller communities have a great opportunity to take change-making initiative. Without assistance from national governments, municipal environmental groups have set up their own local peer-to-peer networks, and indigenous communities like the Lubicon Cree First Nation have reclaimed tar sands for solar. Supporting the expansion of such projects from one community to another could be the key for rapid and inclusive action, and this grassroots domino effect could make it less likely that climate action is an elitist and expensive imposition.

Confusing government policy biggest threat to UK clean energy, says top academic
The biggest threat to renewable energy in the UK, and the country’s energy systems, comes from a lack of clarity on the part of government, a leading academic has said. Rob Gross, director of the centre for energy policy at Imperial College London, said on Monday: “[There is a] lack of clarity over what they want people to do. This lack of clarity is erasing investment in everything. With more clarity, you would get more investment.”

The Republican Party stands alone in climate denial
A paper published in the journal Politics and Policy by Sondre Båtstrand at the University of Bergen in Norway compared the climate positions of conservative political parties around the world. Båtstrand examined the platforms or manifestos of the conservative parties from the USA, UK, Norway, Sweden, Spain, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Germany. He found that the US Republican Party stands alone in its rejection of the need to tackle climate change and efforts to become the party of climate supervillains.

DOC approves land swap, paves way for Ruataniwha dam
NEW ZEALAND – The Department of Conservation has agreed to a land swap that would allow the controversial Ruataniwha dam to proceed. Hawke’s Bay Regional Council wants to build a 7km-long irrigation reservoir near the foothills of the Ruahine Forest Park, to feed an irrigation network for farmers on the drought-prone Ruataniwha Plains, west of Waipawa. But plans to create the 372-hectare storage lake hinged on the council securing the right to flood 22ha of protected DOC land on the fringes of the forest park.

University of NSW students reveal a tale of two career paths: coal mining and renewable energy
Despite the flood of downbeat media reports about the post-mining boom and fossil fuel divestment campaigns, [Ms Au], the budding drill and blast engineer sees a positive future for herself and the oft-maligned coal industry. “Coal has a future,” Ms Au said during a recent Open Day at the University of NSW, noting NSW still relies on coal to generate about 84 per cent of its electricity. “Not that many people know what we do to benefit society.”… Engineering students in UNSW’s School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy, meanwhile, have a different view on fossil fuels and careers… “Coal does have a future,” said Oscar Wilkie, a soon-to-be bachelor’s degree graduate in solar energy engineering who will take up a $70,000-a-year post with Boston Consulting Group. “It’s not really a war, but in the long term, it’s going to diminish.”

Built Environment

Strawbale house: thermal efficiency, solar hydronic heating and great acoustics
When Joy and Paul Quilter were invited to a friend’s wedding several years ago, they had no idea it would be the beginning of a seven year journey to build the largest straw bale home in the southern hemisphere on their rural block in New Zealand…  “Our friend’s wedding was at their home and when we entered we were struck by how quiet and peaceful it felt, despite a group of over 20 people loudly chatting over wines and the floors being tiles,” explains Paul. “With our business being music, we were immediately noticed and were impressed by the acoustics, there was almost zero reverberation and echo.” The couple asked the home’s owner why it sounded so different, to be told it was straw bale construction with a lime render which was environmentally friendly as well as being very thermally efficient.

Food Systems

Think dairy farming is benign? Our rivers tell a different story
Eat less meat and fish, drink less milk. No request could be simpler, or more consequential. Nothing we do has greater potential for reducing our impacts on the living planet. Yet no request is more likely to elicit a baffled, hurt or furious response.

Have an Idea for the Future of Food? Unilever, Cargill, General Mills, and More Want to Hear It
Startups that are innovating around nutritious, sustainable food are invited to pitch for a £3000 cash prize and a three-month mentoring program with the Unilever Foundry. The competition is open to innovators tackling food system challenges such as heart health, obesity, under-nutrition, food waste, and sustainability of the food chain. Startups must register and apply by October 8th.


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