Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Top Story

Are we reaching a positive climate change tipping point?
Are we tipping the right way? One of the great environmental stories is of how catastrophe can creep up and be noticed only when it is too late to act. Examples range from the sudden, inexplicable collapse of bee colonies, to ice cores revealing the potential for dramatic climatic upheavals that happen not in millennia or centuries, but the time it takes to pass through a coalition government or two.

It is hard enough to identify tipping or “inflection” points when you are consciously looking, like monitoring the so-called known unknowns of future forest die-back, deep-sea methane release, ice melt and sea level rise. Worse, in complex systems, are the unknown unknowns. All you have is nebulous worry. It’s why we are supposed to obey the precautionary principle relating to any activity which at scale is capable of altering whole systems…

Energy and Climate Change

The Road to Paris: three myths about international climate talks
With only nine months to go before the most important international meeting on climate change since Copenhagen in 2009, what are the chances of success at this year’s Paris talks? What might “success” mean? And can the mistakes and challenges that have befallen previous meetings be avoided and tackled? To help address these questions, let’s first dispense with three pervasive myths that continue to make the task of achieving an adequate global response to climate change harder.

Emissions soar as brown coal booms after carbon tax repeal
Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s repeal of the carbon price continues to deliver for the Australian coal industry, with the share of brown coal generation surging to its highest level in three years, taking a substantial increase in electricity emissions with it. According to the latest survey by Pitt & Sherry in its Cedex series, Australian electricity emissions have jumped 2.8 per cent since last June, when the carbon price was repealed, and the emissions intensity of the national grid has jumped by 4 per cent over the same period.

Breakthrough in hydrogen-powered cars may spell end for petrol stations
Scientists have dramatically increased the efficiency of producing clean hydrogen fuel from plant waste in a breakthrough that could one day lead to petrol stations being replaced by a network of roadside “bioreactors” for refuelling cars. A study funded by Shell Oil has shown that it is possible to convert all 100 per cent of the sugar stored in corn stover – the stalks, cobs and husks leftover in a harvested maize field – into hydrogen gas with no overall increase in carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere.

Bendy battery promises safe, speedy charging
Scientists have built a flexible aluminium battery which they say could be a cheap, fast-charging and safe alternative to current designs. The protoype consists of a soft pouch, containing aluminium for one electrode and a graphite foam for the other – all surrounded by a special liquid salt. It can recharge in less than a minute and is very safe and durable compared to lithium-ion batteries, but currently only delivers about half the voltage. The work appears in the journal Nature.

Can water from coal seam gas be re-injected into the ground?
One of the major concerns about coal seam gas (CSG) extraction is what to do with the water produced in the process, as well as more general concerns about the industry’s impacts on groundwater. But what if the water produced by CSG extraction could be recycled and returned to the ground? My new research, carried out as part of CSIRO’s Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance, shows that it is possible to re-inject this CSG-produced water into aquifers, and that water quality issues should be insignificant as along as the situation is carefully monitored.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Top academics ask world’s universities to divest from fossil fuels
It is both unethical and untenable for universities around the world to continue to invest in fossil fuel companies whose plans to prospect for more oil, coal and gas endanger future global prosperity, according to an influential group of academics. That statement from, Academics Stand Against Poverty (Asap) – a global group of about 2,000 researchers who study poverty and development– urges universities to follow the lead of institutions like Stanford, Syracuse and Glasgow that have all committed to divest from fossil fuel holdings.

Environment and Biodiversity

Great Barrier Reef can be saved if climate change addressed: James Cook University report
A group of leading coral reef scientists says the Great Barrier Reef can be restored to its former glory, but only if climate change is addressed. James Cook University (JCU) scientists have released a six point plan to save the reef, including Australia shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy and a recasting of the role of the reef’s Marine Park Authority. The report’s authors said the Great Barrier Reef has lost half its coral cover over the last 40 years and its condition was poor and deteriorating.

Myths about flies debunked in new documentary The Great Australian Fly
They are a national nuisance and something of an ironic Australian symbol, but documentary The Great Australian Fly reveals the insect has been getting bad press… Dr Lambkin said the world would be a very different, very dirty place without the humble fly. “They are absolutely important to the ecosystem — the numbers of flies that are used as food for other animals,” she said. “Most flies are actually decomposers of organic matter, dead organic matter. If we didn’t have flies, we would be swimming in it.” Watch The Great Australian Fly on ABC at 8:30pm.

Sydney Water revealed as nation’s biggest dumper of mercury
Sydney Water has been revealed as the nation’s biggest dumper of mercury into Australian waters, pumping 40 kilograms of the toxic metal out of its deep ocean outfall pipes at Manly and Malabar in the past financial year, according to figures released by the federal government last week. The total amount of mercury pumped out into the ocean off North Head from the sewage has almost quadrupled from the previous year, up from 8 kilograms to 30 kilograms, sparking concerns that the country’s biggest utility is not meeting community expectations about polluting the environment.

Tasmanian researchers seize rare opportunity to bank seeds of native conifers
Tasmanian researchers are scrambling to collect the seeds of native conifer tree species during a sudden fruiting period. The alpine conifers are endemic to the state’s central highlands and usually fruit every five to seven years. This year, different wild populations across the state have begun to fruit all at once.  Researchers suspected the transition between El Nino and La Nina weather patterns could be the cause.

Dolphin dies in set net in Akaroa Harbour
A dolphin killed after being caught in a set net shows the protections in place are inadequate, marine biologists say. The young male Hector’s dolphin was found dead in Banks Peninsula’s Akaroa Harbour on Monday and was reported to the Department of Conservation. University of Otago marine biologists Professor Steve Dawson and Professor Elisabeth Slooten happened to be in Akaroa for Easter and were able to examine the dead dolphin. Biologists say there were ‘clear indented lines across the dolphin’s snout, multiple sharp cuts in the flippers and tail flukes, and a fresh nick out of its dorsal fin’. The 123-centimetre-long male was probably four or five years old and was in good condition, Dawson said. Its age was estimated from its size and the lack of wear and tear on its teeth.

Colorful New ‘Dwarf Dragons’ Found in South America
Attention Game of Thrones: Three new species of “dwarf dragon” have been discovered in Peru and Ecuador, a new study says. Due to political unrest in Ecuador, it took nearly a decade for scientists to identify the reptiles, which are commonly called wood lizards. They are the Alto Tambo wood lizard (Enyalioides altotambo), rough-scaled wood lizard (E. anisolepis), and Rothschild’s wood lizard (E. sophiarothschildae). Wood lizards—which resemble miniature versions of mythical dragons—are among the largest and most colorful lizards in South American forests, making their discovery even more notable, according to scientists.

5 Things You Should Know About California’s Water Crisis
Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown announced his state’s first-ever mandatory water restrictions, in an effort to cope with four years of the worst drought in the state’s history. The restrictions, under which cities and towns in the state were told to cut water use by 25 percent, could be the first step in what many researchers and analysts say is a fundamental change in the way California uses its diminishing water supplies. Here are five things you need to know about California’s water situation.

Economy and Business

How climate bonds can save the planet
Addressing climate change is expensive. The International Energy Agency estimates the world must invest a whopping $1 trillion a year into clean energy by 2050 if we are to have any chance of keeping global warming to 2°C and avoid the worst impacts of climate change on the environment, the community’s health and the global economy. Governments simply don’t have that sort of money. This is where green bonds, essentially debt instruments used to fund environmentally friendly projects, come in. There are a number of fascinating green bond projects around the world.

Stockland to install Australia’s largest rooftop solar system
Stockland has announced it will install a 1.22 megawatt solar system on its Shellharbour Shopping Centre in Wollongong, NSW – the largest rooftop solar installation to occur in Australia thus far, and a sign that the economics now stack up for commercial solar in the property sector. It comprises 3991 panels at a cost of over $2 million and is estimated to generate on average 4789 kilowatt hours a day or 28 per cent of the centre’s base building requirements. The space of installation is 7568 square metres, around the size of a football field. The system, which is expected to be switched on by the end of May, is part of a suite of sustainability upgrades at the 4 Star Green Star centre financed by Stockland’s recent green bond.

Barclays ends financing of controversial mountaintop removal mining
Barclays has ended its financing of a controversial coal mining method known as mountaintop removal and said time is running out for the practice. The bank was the world’s biggest financier of mountain top removal (MTR) in 2013, when it loaned MTR companies $550m, according to one analysis. But in a policy document, released without publicity during March, Barclays reversed its position. Companies that engage in MTR coal mining will no longer receive support from the bank unless they commit to moving out of MTR “within a reasonable timeframe”.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Law changed so nuclear waste dumps can be forced on local communities
Nuclear waste dumps can be imposed on local communities without their support under a new law rushed through in the final hours of parliament. Under the latest rules, the long search for a place to store Britain’s stockpile of 50 years’ worth of the most radioactive waste from power stations, weapons and medical use can be ended by bypassing local planning. Since last week, the sites are now officially considered “nationally significant infrastructure projects” and so will be chosen by the secretary of state for energy. He or she would get advice from the planning inspectorate, but would not be bound by the recommendation. Local councils and communities can object to details of the development but cannot stop it altogether.

Politics and Society

EU still ignoring impact of low-cost imports like clothing and commodities
A quarter of agricultural goods produced from illegally deforested land are destined for the EU, a new report has found, which estimates their value at more than €6bn (£4.3bn) a year. The investigation by Fern, a Brussels-based forestry NGO, puts the EU ahead of the US and China per capita. More than half of the total value of EU imports of agricultural commodities estimated to be linked to illegal deforestation originates in Brazil, and a quarter originates in Indonesia.  While the figures may be shocking, some campaigners see it as just another example of how the EU ignores the environmental and social problems associated with the low-cost imports its economy depends upon.

Grand Canyon Development Plans Put River on Endangered List
The stretch of the Colorado River that winds through the Grand Canyon tops a new list of the nation’s most endangered rivers, a reflection of controversial plans to reopen a uranium mine in the area and build a tramway that would take visitors to a new restaurant and river walkways on the canyon floor. The Colorado was among ten rivers that the environmental group American Rivers identified as facing imminent threats, in a list released on Tuesday. The rivers on the list aren’t necessarily the most imperiled or polluted, says Sinjin Eberle, the group’s associate director of communications for the Colorado River Basin. Rather, they are the ones that the advocacy group is urging the public to ask government agencies to protect in the coming months.

India launches air quality index to monitor pollution levels in cities including New Delhi
The Indian government has launched the country’s first air quality index amid growing concern over the impact of air pollution on public health. The government said monitoring stations with air quality index display boards would be set up in New Delhi, Agra, Kanpur, Lucknow, Varanasi, Faridabad, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad. The aim is for the index to eventually cover 66 cities.

Climate campaigners losing faith in value of engaging with fossil fuel firms
It’s been 23 years since investor activists first tried to get the oil business to face up to the risks of climate change. Progress has been painfully slow and gains have been few. Now many campaigners have concluded that engagement is not delivering anywhere near fast enough: it is time to sever ties with fossil fuel companies. “Engagement is useless,” said Bevis Longstreth, a securities and exchange commissioner during the Reagan administration, who has signed on to the divestment campaign by Harvard alumni who are calling on that university to shift its investments from fossil fuels. Oil and gas companies were never going to give up their core business because of shareholder proposals, he argues.

Dutch government heads to court on climate change charges
The Dutch government will have to defend its climate change policies in court next week, when an action brought by campaigners is finally heard by three district judges in the Hague.The case is believed to be the first where human rights legislation has been used to force a state to explain why it believes its plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are adequate and fair.Dutch pressure group Urgenda, which is behind the action, started proceedings in 2012 with the support of climate scientist James Hansen, accusing the government of implementing weak clean energy targets.

Citizens Spur States to Ban Trade in Ivory and Rhino Horn
SHELBURNE, Vermont—”When you think things need to change, you have the power to make it happen,” Ashley McAvey, homegrown elephant activist and mother of two, told students recently at Endeavour Middle School in Shelburne, Vermont. McAvey is the driving force behind Vermont’s proposed legislation (H. 297) to ban sales of elephant ivory and rhino horn in the state. She’ll be giving testimony at the April 8 hearing on the bill before the state’s House Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources. “Federal laws restrict the import, export, and interstate sale of ivory,” she said, “but they don’t regulate intrastate ivory sales adequately, and they also allow the continued sale of certain ivory, like antiques.”


Undercover Kenya Wildlife Services rangers remove tusks from a bull elephant killed by a poacher’s spear. Because illegal ivory can be “laundered” in legal markets, states and federal authorities are trying to tighten regulations, limit exemptions, and close loopholes.

Undercover Kenya Wildlife Services rangers remove tusks from a bull elephant killed by a poacher’s spear. Because illegal ivory can be “laundered” in legal markets, states and federal authorities are trying to tighten regulations, limit exemptions, and close loopholes.

Food Systems

‘Precision fishing’ trial confirmed to help the tiddlers
A new form of commercial fishing – precision seafood harvesting (PSH) – has improved the survival rates for by-catch, scientists involved in the New Zealand project said. The system – which uses a large, flexible PVC liner with specifically sized holes along its length, allows undersized fish to escape before they are brought on board the fishing boat. The fish that are brought on board stay in better condition because they are still swimming in the liner when they are on the deck, the scientists said.

Environmental sustainability and profit possible in dairying
NEW ZEALAND – Managers at St Peter’s dairy farm hope to prove it was possible to remain profitable while implementing a strong environmental policy around wetland management. The 160ha farm near Cambridge sat adjacent to the Waikato River. This location made it ideal to be able to demonstrate best environmental practice backed up with robust science for wetland monitoring, demonstration farm manager Doug Dibley said at an open day held on the farm. It would also provide an opportunity to show leadership and influence the urban communities about the positive work the sector was doing around environmental management.


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