Sustainable Development News

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

Repair or replace? How to fight constant demands for ‘new stuff’
Is the throwaway era about to end? The past half century has given us toasters that are irreparable after a minor fault, T-shirts that quickly shrink or fade, and vacuum cleaners that need replacing after a few years. “Planned obsolescence” means old smartphones may perform worse after necessary updates, and products ranging from clothing to spectacles are regularly redesigned to encourage new purchases.

Energy and Climate Change

Fossil fuel industry’s methane emissions far higher than thought
The fossil fuel industry’s emissions of a powerful greenhouse gas are dramatically higher than previously thought. Researchers who pulled together the biggest database yet of worldwide methane emissions found that, after natural sources were discounted, emissions from gas, oil and coal production were 20-60% greater than existing estimates.

What next for the UK as coal hits all time low but renewables falter?
On Thursday (29 September) the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) released UK energy statistics for the second quarter of 2016, but with coal and renewables generation both falling, does the Government need to adjust its energy policy?

The future belongs to clean energy
As we close out a summer marked by uncertainty in news and events, one trend for which analysts voice increasing certainty is the accelerating pace of the clean-energy transformation reshaping how the world generates electricity.  With increasing speed, global energy markets are turning away from fossil fuels and towards wind and other renewable sources, not just because they’re clean but because they’re cheaper, more competitive energy choices and offer a level of long-term certainty more price-volatile fossil fuels just can’t match.

Environment and Biodiversity

The seven big decisions made at the Cites global wildlife summit
A major meeting on the regulation of trade in endangered species is drawing to a close in Johannesburg – here are seven of its key hits and misses.

The world’s oceans are anaemic and this scientist is trying to find out why
The world’s oceans depend on iron for growth but a third of all oceans are said to have become anaemic — essentially creating a vast blue barren desert. Iron is one of the essential trace elements of life on earth. It is formed deep within stars then scattered across the universe by collapsing supernovas, it is then secreted in our soils, hiding in our glaciers, floating in our oceans and carried in our blood.

Damselfish relocate to adapt to rising temperatures on Great Barrier Reef, scientists say
Damselfish on the Great Barrier Reef will try to adapt to rising ocean temperatures by relocating, a study has found. As part of the research, a team of international scientists exposed the fish to changing temperatures in a laboratory setting. The highest was 33 degrees Celsius, similar to sea surface temperatures seen during the reef’s worst bleaching event earlier this year.

The Coral Sea: an ocean jewel that needs more protection
Almost a million square kilometres of the Coral Sea is within Australian waters, making up one of six regions used for planning national networks of marine reserves. Unlike the other regions, virtually all of the Coral Sea is within a single reserve… The effectiveness of the reserve hinges on its internal zones – subdivisions that vary in the uses and activities they allow. So “protected” is a slippery concept. Just how protected the Coral Sea is depends on where and how large the different zones are.  The review of Commonwealth marine reserves, released earlier this month, recommended changes to the zoning arrangements put in place when the network was declared in 2012, but not for the better.

Bath bullies, bacteria and battlegrounds: the secret world of bird baths
AUSTRALIA – Bird baths are a familiar sight in Australian gardens but surprisingly little is known about the precise role they play in the lives of birds. In a dry continent such as Australia, bird baths may be vital to supporting an otherwise stressed bird population. We wanted to find out more, so we enlisted the help of thousands of citizen scientists across Australia to gather as much data as we could on how birds use bird baths… If you provide food or water for birds and would like to get involved in the summer study, sign up at

Romania bans trophy hunting of brown bears, wolves, lynx and wild cats
Romania has banned all trophy hunting of brown bears, wolves, lynx and wild cats in a surprise decision that gives Europe’s largest population of large carnivores a reprieve from its most severe and immediate threat. The move on Tuesday reverses a trend which has seen the number of large carnivores being shot by hunters grow year on year since Romania’s accession into the European Union in 2007. In 2016, the largest hunting quotas yet gave hunters the mandate to shoot 550 bears, 600 wolves and 500 big cats over 12 months.

Looming megadroughts in western US would make current drought look minor
The harsh drought currently gripping California may appear trivial in the future as new research shows that the south-west US faces the looming threat of “megadroughts” that last for decades. California is in its sixth year of drought, which was barely dented by rains brought by the El Niño climate event and sparked a range of water restrictions in the state. But warming temperatures and uncertain rainfall mean that if more isn’t done to slow climate change, droughts lasting 35 years are likely to blight western states by the end of the century, according to the study, published in Science Advances.

Economy and Business

‘Significant opportunities’ for low-carbon cities
Switching to a low-carbon economy offers cities “significant economic opportunities”, an assessment says. Low-carbon markets was worth US $33bn (£26bn) to London’s economy, the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) said in its latest report. However, collaboration between public and private sectors was an essential ingredient needed to deliver economic growth and carbon cuts, it observed. The findings examined the commitments made by 533 cities around the world. The report, It Takes a City: The Case for Collaborative Climate Action, added that the cities spread over 89 nations had identified more than 1,000 economic opportunities linked to climate change. Almost 300 cities featured in the report were also developing new business industries, such as clean technology.

Brazil development bank ditches support for coal-fired power plants
BNDES, the largest Latin American development bank, will no longer fund new coal-fired or oil-fired power plants in a bid to encourage investment in cleaner forms of energy generation. The Brazilian development bank released a new set of guidelines earlier this week which will see the bank remove all funding available for coal or oil thermoelectric plants, and reduce credit to new natural gas and hydroelectric plants from 70 per cent of total project investment to 50 per cent.

Laws alone don’t stop companies from abandoning deadly mine pits in Indonesia
Indonesian law requires resource extraction companies to manage and pay for post-mining reclamation.The law is poorly enforced, and many coal mining sites are abandoned without reclamation or even basic safety precautions. Officials say they lack the resources to tackle the problem effectively.

Waste and the Circular Economy

New project aims at recycling plastic parts in vehicles
The Automotive End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV) Recycling Demonstration Project is working on a method to recycle the plastic parts of automobiles, in an economically and technically feasible way.

Politics and Society

Enlisting an Army to Save a Forest
Biologist Erika Cuéllar makes a great field general—and recruiter—for conservation. During more than a decade of scientific research in South America’s Gran Chaco, the massive tropical dry forest that spreads over parts of Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil, Cuéllar enlisted local villagers and indigenous people to help navigate and better understand one of the planet’s largest unknown wilderness areas, home to over 4,000 animal, bird, and plant species.

Is REDD+ finance really put to work in the right places?
In a recent article on Mongabay, Mike Gaworecki describes a recent report by the NGO Forest Trends, which suggests that the approximately $6 billion of REDD+ finance that has been pledged so far is being put to work in the right places… The authors of this guest commentary write that their research “shows that REDD+ finance does not necessarily reach the most relevant people to make a difference on the ground nor does it necessarily address the underlying causes and drivers of deforestation.

Has hope become the most endangered species in conservation?
Want to hear a sad story? You could read this article of mine about the first mammal lost to climate change. Or this one about how there are only 60 vaquita left on the planet. Or here’s my piece on how forest elephants are being decimated even as scientists debate if they are worthy of being called a distinct species. As an environmental journalist, I sometimes feel it’s my job to simply document the decline of life on planet Earth. The word ‘depressing’ doesn’t even begin to describe it… There may be a cure coming, however. As I write this, there is a small but growing movement within conservation to bring back a little optimism, a little hope, a little wonder into what has become a decidedly bleak calling.

Green ‘abuse’ warrants Australian law review, says resources minister
The resources minister, Matt Canavan, says the abuse of Australia’s legal system by green groups seeking to delay mining projects warrants a “fundamental” review of environmental law. Canavan on Wednesday used a Queensland Media Club luncheon speech to take aim at activists who harbour an anti-development ideology.

Public values and marine farming can co-exist, says Marlborough Sounds group
NEW ZEALAND – A Marlborough Sounds residents group supported moves to speed up the re-consenting of marine farms only if public values are retained. Kenepuru and Central Sounds Residents Association chairman Trevor Offen​ said the group supported sustainable aquaculture in the Marlborough Sounds and initiatives to improve re-consenting efficacy. But only if efficacy did not come at the expense of public values in the Sounds, he said.

Built Environment

Oslo’s ambitious ‘climate budget’ sets the bar for other cities
Oslo’s city government has issued an ambitious “climate budget” with the intent of halving its carbon emissions from 1990 levels by 2020, and becoming completely carbon neutral by 2030. To achieve this goal, the city plans to limit access for cars with new tolls and fewer parking spaces, power the bus fleet with renewable energy, increase cycle use and eliminate heating with fossil fuels in homes and offices.

Infrastructure Victoria calls for a density shift in Melbourne
AUSTRALIA – Melbourne should increase density in established suburbs in the south and east to make use of existing infrastructure, according to the just-released 30-year draft strategy from Infrastructure Victoria. The strategy released this week makes 134 recommendations for infrastructure development over the next three decades, which will see an estimated $100 billion in capital spending. A key recommendation has been increased densification as “the most sustainable and equitable” solution to managing infrastructure costs for the 9.5 million people expected to call the city home by 2046.

Food Systems

Local food is great, but can it go too far?
Without a doubt, local food has a great set of benefits. But the commonly held belief that reducing “food miles” is always good for the environment because it reduces the use of transportation fuel and associated carbon dioxide emissions turns out to be a red herring. Strange as it might seem, local food uses about the same amount of energy per pound to transport as long-distance food.

Review: Bugs on the Menu at the Environmental Film Festival
Bugs are on the menu in Canadian filmmaker Ian Toews’ documentary screening at the Environmental Film Festival Australia this month. The film promotes that the view that bugs can provide a more sustainable way of food (particularly protein) production for an expanding human population. “Entomophagy”, or the human consumption of insects and insect-derived products, has been practised by cultures around the world for centuries, but the film highlights how mainly western eating habits now eat many fewer insects.

Tomato growers reap benefits of horticultural LEDs
Two of Britain’s biggest tomato growers are now benefiting from a transition to horticultural LED lighting, which is increasing yields and significantly reducing energy usage for both businesses. APS Salads and supermarket tomato supplier Flavour Fresh Solfresh Group have completed their first 12 and 10-month growing cycles respectively, using 100% LEDs supplied by Philips Lighting.



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