Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world. If you like what you see, you are welcome to sign up (on the right) for free sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning. 

Top Story

How tasty forest foods can help solve the global hunger crisis
About one in nine people globally still suffer from hunger, with the majority living in Africa and Asia. The world’s forests have great potential to improve their nutrition and ensure their livelihoods. In fact, forests could be essential to global food security, particularly when considering the importance of diverse, nutritionally-balanced diets. Forests are key to protecting biodiversity, and for mitigating the effects of climate change. This is well known. However their contribution to alleviating hunger and improving nutrition has been somewhat neglected. A recent study by the Global Forest Expert Panel on Forests and Food Security, which I chaired, shows how forests and trees can complement agricultural production and give an economic boost to some of the world’s most vulnerable regions

Energy and Climate Change

Global carbon dioxide levels break 400ppm milestone
Record carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere were recorded worldwide in March, in what scientists said marked a significant milestone for global warming. Figures released by the US science agency Noaa on Wednesday show that for the first time since records began, the parts per million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere were over 400 globally for a month. The new global record follows the breaking of the 400ppm CO2 threshold in some local areas in 2012 and 2013, and comes nearly three decades after what is considered the ‘safe’ level of 350ppm was passed.

EU agrees ‘landmark’ carbon market deal
A deal to claw back hundreds of millions of surplus allowances from Europe’s emissions trading system (ETS) has been hailed as a watershed by environmentalists, MEPs and renewable industry groups. Nearly half of the continent’s emissions are covered by the ETS, the world’s largest carbon market, which sets a cap on CO2 output and forces firms to buy or sell allowances to stay within its boundaries. Recession and lavish handouts to industry have contributed to a glut of around 2bn allowances but a new market reserve will now start removing roughly the same amount from the market in 2019, as the Guardian reported in February.

Australia must reduce reliance on coal, says UN’s top climate change negotiator Christiana Figueres
Australia must move away from its reliance on coal, says the United Nations’ top climate negotiator Christiana Figueres. The executive secretary of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change spoke to delegates at the Australian Emissions Reduction Summit in Melbourne on Wednesday. She said peak global emissions had to be reached within the next 10 years so the reduction could begin and climate neutrality could begin in the second half of the century.

Direct action’s emissions safeguards ‘designed to fail’: Grattan Institute
AUSTRALIA – Proposed safeguards to limit greenhouse gas emissions from big polluters have been designed by the Abbott government to fail, according to the Grattan Institute. And an analysis by Environment Victoria has found the way Australia’s heavy emitting electricity industry is treated under the safeguards would allow power plants to increase emissions by millions of tonnes without being penalised. In a submission on the government’s proposed safeguard design under its climate change plan – known as direct action – the Grattan Institute says the mechanism will not stop emissions increases by heavy industry “because it is not designed to achieve this goal”.

The Tesla battery heralds the beginning of the end for fossil fuels
The sun doesn’t shine at night and the wind doesn’t blow year-round – these are the mantras of all those opposed to the progress of renewables. Now the renewable power billionaire Elon Musk has just blown away that final defence. Last Thursday in California he introduced to the world his sleek new Powerwall – a wall-mounted energy storage unit that can hold 10 kilowatt hours of electric energy, and deliver it at an average of 2 kilowatts, all for US$3,500. That translates into an electricity price (taking into account installation costs and inverters) of around US$500 per kWh – less than half current costs, as estimated by Deutsche Bank.

Energy storage is crucial, but it’s not the only piece in the puzzle
A few years ago, it was rooftop solar. Now battery storage is the new silver bullet to solve our energy problems. Storage is a great step forward, and it will play an important role in our sustainable energy future. But it is just one piece of the jigsaw puzzle that is our energy future. That’s worth keeping in mind, given the recent hype over Tesla’s new storage appliances, including its 10 kilowatt hour Powerwall for energy storage in the home. Storage frees us from the need to match electricity generation and supply to demand on a “real-time” basis. This is a game-changer. But it still costs money, incurs energy losses and has environmental impacts. So practical and economic strategies will involve several elements, which complement each other.

UK energy bill subsidies driving boom in polluting diesel farms
Subsidies levied on household energy bills have helped drive a boom in polluting “diesel farms” across the UK to meet periods of peak electricity demand, the Guardian has found. Almost a quarter of Britain’s back-up power under one programme for the National Grid is being provided by tiny fossil fuel power stations – some of which have been built on farmland by entrepreneurs. The mini-power stations are brought into play by grid managers when there is a rapid surge in demand for power, for example when large numbers are watching major sporting events such as the World Cup or Wimbledon finals or during major TV events such as the final of Strictly Come Dancing.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Al Gore’s business partner warns investors of fossil fuel risks
Two influential investment industry grandees are separately touring the City of London challenging fund managers and pension trustees to adopt radical new approaches to investments in some of the world’s largest fossil fuel extractors. David Blood, former head of asset management at Goldman Sachs, and Howard Covington, onetime chief executive of New Star Asset Management, both warn that mainstream investment thinking is sleepwalking into a future where the threat of climate change either leaves huge reserves of fossil fuel unburnable or plunges the global economy into crisis.

Environment and Biodiversity

Multiple dams are an ominous threat to life on the Mekong River
In a remote part of northern Laos, history is being made. Construction has begun on the final stage of the $3.5bn Xayaburi dam – the first dam to span the entire mainstem of the lower Mekong River. At the same time, in southern Laos, where the Mekong River’s braided channel flows languidly around thousands of sandy islands, preliminary work has begun on the roads and bridges needed to build the $300m Don Sahong dam. This historic moment, however, is an ominous sign for the river’s 60 million downstream residents, some of the planet’s most endangered wildlife species and the world’s most productive inland fishery. With a total of 11 dams planned for the lower Mekong River, the future of this mighty waterway is in grave danger.

Australia: riding on the insect’s back
As you may have spotted, the title of this article is a cheeky reference to the famous saying that Australia rides on the back of a particular woolly ruminant. The reference dates back to 1894, when the wool industry was one of the primary sources of Australia’s prosperity. Wool was our main export commodity from 1871 to the 1960s. For more than a century, the golden fleece drew pastoral workers and professionals to regional Australia, and sustained many a country town. It is likely that most people would consider the native birds and animals in the farm shelterbelt to be the main source of agricultural biodiversity. However, the most diverse and important biodiversity is much smaller. And it’s invertebrate.

Concern over lack of plans for threatened species like kea
NEW ZEALAND – The kea population could drop to just a few hundred birds in a decade’s time, and yet the Department of Conservation has no plan to save them. The nationally endangered rubber-chewing parrot, numbering about 1000 to 5000 today, is among the three-quarters of all threatened native species for which the agency has no active recovery plan in place, according to information from its annual review compiled by the Green Party. A DOC spokesman said the agency was now working on a national strategy to manage kea.

Victorian grazing ban for national parks to take hold
AUSTRALIA – A ban on cattle grazing in national parks will take effect after  the Andrews government secured enough numbers to pass the laws in the Victorian Parliament’s upper house late on Tuesday. The passage of the law – which prohibits grazing for any reason in the Alpine and a number of other national parks – came after a last minute scramble by the government to secure support from crossbenchers.

Economy and Business

#BusinessCase: Dow/TNC Study Highlights Benefits of Valuing Ecosystem Services
According to a recent study in Ecosystem Services, businesses may pay more for less reliable sources of water in the future. This week, scientists from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and The Dow Chemical Company (Dow), with research support from Colorado State University and Duke University, published Finding solutions to water scarcity: Incorporating ecosystem service values into business planning at The Dow Chemical Company’s Freeport, Texas facility, which addresses challenges businesses face to accurately estimate the value of water resources and address future scarcity threats. The results highlight business decision-making and risk management for Fortune 500 companies can be improved by keeping water sustainability in mind.

US water experts calls for Australian-style water reforms to Colorado River Basin
As the Colorado River Basin edges closer to its first ever officially declared shortage, one expert is calling on policy makers to adopt Australian-style water reform to cope with looming shortages. The Colorado River traces a path from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, through Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California, before crossing into Mexico. Recently, Washington-based environmental group American Rivers named it as America’s most endangered river system.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Pig slurry could be converted with algae into food to feed back to animals
Pig slurry could be turned into a source of food using algae, that can be fed back to the animals, if a West Australian research project is successful. Murdoch University researchers are working on the project, which has identified three species of micro-algae capable of growing on piggery waste, which typically contains extremely high levels of ammonium. It is hoped pig excrement treated with micro and macro-algae could eventually produce a safe, protein-rich source of food for pigs.

[Ed: Intuitively this sounds like a terrible idea. But if processed comprehensively and safely it’s a possible waste solution?!]

Politics and Society

Cyclone Pam: Vanuatu and Solomon Islands struggle as emergency aid runs low
Nearly two months after Tropical Cyclone Pam swept across the Pacific killing at least 11 people in Vanuatu, disaster management officials say international relief is drying up. Vanuatu’s National Disaster Management Office was still working to provide emergency food relief, head of operations Pete Korisa told Pacific Beat. “We are trying to use whatever resources we have at the moment due to the international organisations that have scaled down on their response,” he said.

Built Environment

Report: Some ‘Megacities’ Are More Sustainable Than Others
New York consumes too much energy, London and Paris use relatively fewer resources and Tokyo conserves water well, according to a new study on “megacity metabolism,” as reported by ScienceDaily. As the world’s first comprehensive survey of resources used and removed in each of the world’s 27 largest metropolitan areas, the findings could point the way toward strategies to make cities more sustainable.

Productivity Commission: land use planning changes can mitigate disaster risk
AUSTRALIA – The final report of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into Natural Disaster Funding Arrangements has highlighted the need for changes to land use planning and urban design to improve resilience and manage the risks of climate change.

CEC releases guide to improve SME electricity use
AUSTRALIA – A Clean Energy Council guide for small to medium enterprises on demand-side solutions for improving electricity use highlights the benefits of energy efficiency and embedded generation such as solar power. Chief executive of the CEC Kane Thornton says that with Australia’s electricity supply being in a state of transition, there are both risks and opportunities for the SME sector.Demand-side strategies include onsite generation and storage, load shifting and integrated energy management systems to reduce energy bills.

Why you shouldn’t wash your dishes by hand
It is still common practice in many households to – after dinner – wash the dishes by hand to get all the grimy food off of them, and then put them in the dishwasher and run a cycle. For many of us, it just feels cleaner. And that can be a very personal feeling, hard to let go of. The problem is, a diverse group of experts – including from Consumer Reports, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Program, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy – suggests that in most cases we should just “let the dishwasher do its job,” as Consumer Reports puts it.

Which firewood is best?
NEW ZEALAND – Ask the people who know trees best and they’ll tell you not to grow trees for firewood. Grow trees for a list of other great reasons – fruit, nuts, shelter, habitat, erosion control, timber for posts etc – and you’ll always have enough firewood and kindling from the prunings and windfall branches and twigs. [Ed: This is a guide to all you need to know about firewood]

Food Systems

Panera Bread Publishes List of Unacceptable Ingredients to Be Removed from Food Menus by 2016
Today, Panera Bread shared its progress in removing a host of what the company deems “unacceptable” ingredients. Panera has committed to remove artificial additives and published a No No List of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives that the Company has eliminated or intends to remove from its U.S. Panera Bread® and St. Louis Bread Co.® bakery-café food menus by the end of 2016. This move makes Panera Bread the first national restaurant company in the U.S. to publicly share a comprehensive list of ingredients that will be removed from or will never appear in its menu items.


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