Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Sydney’s wild weather shows home-owners are increasingly at risk
Eastern Australia’s wild weather has left coastal homes teetering on the brink of collapse, and has eroded beaches by up to 50m in parts of Sydney. Now the attention turns to the clean-up. There are several legal issues for owners of damaged properties, particularly the question of if and how they can be compensated. While the recent events cannot be attributed directly to climate change, they are certainly consistent with a warming world. Our institutions are ill-prepared for a potential increase in the frequency and severity of such events.

Energy and Climate Change

Past, present, future: how human evolution and climate are linked
Over the past year, carbon dioxide (CO₂) levels in the atmosphere have risen faster than any period in the past 55 million years. That’s the finding of my study published in Global Change Biology. From April 2015 to April 2016, CO₂ levels rose by 4.6 parts per million (ppm), reaching a level of 407.42ppm at Mauna Loa observatory, Hawaii. This rate has increased in the past 200 years and forms a unique spike, reflecting accelerating global warming reinforced by the recent El Niño. CO₂ levels above 400ppm have not been observed in the Earth’s climate record since the Pliocene, 5.3-2.6 million years ago, when sea level was about 25 metres higher than at present.

Pacific energy summit generates millions
The Pacific Energy Summit in Auckland has seen donors commit more than $US690 million dollars to more sustainable energy projects in the Pacific Islands region. The one-day summit was organised by New Zealand and the European Union… The latest investments will help Polynesia to achieve more than 50 percent renewable energy by 2024, provide access to electricity for an estimated 1 million people in Melanesia, and other countries to double their renewable energy generation.

UK solar eclipses coal power over month for first time
Solar power in the UK produced more electricity than coal across the whole of May, the first ever month to pass the milestone, according to  research by analysts at Carbon Brief. Solar panels generated 50% more electricity than the fossil fuel across the month, as days lengthened and coal use fell. Solar generated an estimated 1,336 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity in May, compared to 893GWh output from coal.

AGL’s coal seam gas wells flooded at Sydney’s south-west, shifting water tanks
Flooding has inundated a number of AGL’s coal seam gas wells near the swollen Nepean River, and sent two tanks containing CSG waste water adrift. AGL, though, said gas bubbles surfacing near one flooded well site were not methane leaks, disputing concerns raised  by anti-CSG activists. The floods have covered “a number” of AGL’s CSG wells in the region, including at Menangle Park and Glenlee, following the torrential weekend rains, the NSW Environment Protection Authority said.

How gamification is saving Brisbane renters thousands on energy bills
AUSTRALIA – Brisbane’s experiment with a smart phone-based energy efficiency program has paid off, with a report confirming the project has cut thousands of dollars off young low-income renters’ energy bills. The Reduce Your Juice behaviour change program, an example of gamification, involves an interactive mobile game as well as social media, email and SMS to help low-income residents reduce their power bills. Now after a year of trialling, it has been revealed that the $6.8 million program initiated by Brisbane’s sustainability agency CitySmart has led to average energy savings of 12.3 per cent for the 1000 program participants and savings on average of $220 a year, with some residents saving more than $2000.

Environment and Biodiversity

Lizard Island corals ‘slimy’ after bleaching
Once colourful corals surrounding a Great Barrier Reef island have turned a ghastly shade of brown, with new images showing how algae has impacted the natural wonder. WWF Australia says the photos were taken last month at Lizard Island, the “ground zero” of a mass bleaching event that’s killed an estimated 22 per cent of the reef’s corals.

The aftermath of the bleaching event is evident around Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Supplied

The aftermath of the bleaching event is evident around Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Supplied

The Great Barrier Reef: a catastrophe laid bare
Australia’s natural wonder is in mortal danger. Bleaching caused by climate change has killed almost a quarter of its coral this year and many scientists believe it could be too late for the rest. Using exclusive photographs and new data, a Guardian special report investigates how the reef has been devastated – and what can be done to save it.


Bleaching ‘devastates’ Chagos Marine Reserve
The UK’s largest tropical reef has been devastated in the global bleaching event now under way. Up to 85% of the corals in the Chagos Marine Reserve of the British Indian Ocean Territory are estimated to have been damaged or killed in the event. Scientists say the conditions there are worse than in 1998 – the last major bleaching occurrence.

Watch Fishermen Bomb Their Catch Out of the Water
Some dynamite and a plastic bottle. That’s all it takes for a fisherman to kill hundreds of fish and transform thriving coral reefs into rubble in a matter of seconds. Around the world, fishermen are using explosives, often with dynamite, to maximize their catch. Called blast fishing or dynamite fishing, the practice goes on in nations from Lebanon and Malaysia to the Philippines, while some countries—Kenya and Mozambique, for instance—have managed to stamp it out.

Alarming new footage of forest collapse
NEW ZEALAND – Forest & Bird has released two dramatic videos showing how Northland’s forests, which are undergoing a masting event this year, are collapsing due to chronic underfunding of the Department of Conservation and lack of pest control. With a $20 million emergency response to southern beech forest masting confirmed for this year’s budget, Forest & Bird said it is worried that Northland’s collapsing forests will be forgotten by the Government again.


Rare ‘lake snot’ mysteriously spreading through South Island lakes
NEW ZEALAND – A rare, snot-like slime which clings to swimmers and clogs water filters is spreading through South Island lakes, scientists say. It has been compared to didymo, the nuisance algae which has plagued rivers around the country over the last decade. “Lake snot” – a mucous-like substance produced by the algae cyclotella and known overseas as “lake snow” – has been observed in three South Island lakes.

How to achieve sustainable clean water for everyone
The provision of clean, safe drinking water in much of the world is one of the most significant public health achievements of the past century – and one of the foundation stones of a healthy society. In the developed world, most people are able to take this service for granted and pay very little for it. But even if there is not a large economic cost, a global environmental cost is being paid for the luxury of this service.

Economy and Business

Social innovation in property taking off
AUSTRALIA – The rise of B Corporations, themed community hubs, maker spaces, affordable housing funds and even showers for the homeless are some of the trends emerging in the social innovation space in Australia. Like Fair Trade certification lets you know the coffee you should buy, B Corporation certification helps you recognise businesses with sustainable practices. Impact Investment Group is Australia’s first B Corporation funds manager. Asset manager James Fitzgerald said B Corp businesses considered social, financial and environmental returns when looking at decisions on investments or products and services.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Whole Systems Mapping: How to Design for Innovation and Achieve Sustainability Goals
The room was buzzing during design strategist Jeremy Faludi’s Monday afternoon workshop, Whole Systems Mapping: Driving Innovation and Sustainability Through Prioritized Ideation and Value Chain Maps.. Before the activity began, participants were introduced to the Whole Systems Mapping design method through a brief video from Autodesk. Whole Systems Mapping builds on life-cycle assessment (LCA) to provide designers, engineers, supply chain managers, and others an even more holistic perspective on the products they produce. From there, it helps them identify and tackle the most important problems within the product’s design, as well as innovate with each iteration of the design.

Woman paddleboarding England’s canals finds thousands of plastic items
A woman who paddled 400 miles up the length of England’s waterways found them choked with thousands of plastic items, from bottles and bags to toys and dummies. Lizzie Carr completed the 22-day challenge on Sunday with swollen knuckles and more than 2,000 photos of plastic junk she found in canals and rivers from Godalming in Surrey to Kendal in Cumbria. The 30-year old paddle boarder catalogued more than 1,600 plastic bottles, over 850 plastic bags, 40 footballs, 24 toys, seven dummies, a pair of traffic cones and one bin lid.

Container deposit schemes work: so why is industry still opposed?
Australians are serial wasters. For every 1,000 square metres (or about four tennis courts), Australians litter about 49 pieces of rubbish. The biggest culprits are drink containers, making up five of the top nine recorded pieces of litter by volume. One way to reduce this litter is to refund people when they deposit drink containers for recycling through container deposit recycling (CDR) schemes. South Australia and the Northern Territory have CDR schemes. In May this year, New South Wales Premier Mike Baird announced a CDR scheme for his state, to begin in July 2017.

Melbourne wastes 200 kg of food per person a year: it’s time to get serious
You know that feeling when you open the fridge and are met with something “on the nose”. We all know what food waste looks and smells like. But food waste stinks in more ways than one. It is expensive, costing the average household over A$2,200 a year, and it undermines the resilience and sustainability of our food supply. A new report from our Foodprint Melbourne Project has estimated the amount of food that is wasted in feeding Melbourne. We found that feeding Melbourne generates more than 900,000 tonnes of edible food waste every year, or over 200 kg per person. This is enough to feed more than 2 million people for a year*.

First-Ever Global Standard Allows Countries, Companies to Measure Food Loss and Waste
A partnership of leading international public and private organizations launched the Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard at the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) 2016 Summit today in Copenhagen. The FLW Standard is the first-ever set of global definitions and reporting requirements for companies, countries and others to consistently and credibly measure, report on and manage food loss and waste. The standard comes as a growing number of governments, companies and other entities are making commitments to reduce food loss and waste.

Massive storms are pumping pollution into our oceans: time to clean up our cities
The massive storms that have lashed Australia’s east coast over the past few days are not just a threat to lives and property, but also to our marine wildlife. The increasing urbanisation of our coastlines, and proliferation of impervious surfaces, has meant that up to 80% of stormwater now runs rapidly into a dense underground network of drains. These drains act like an expressway for pollution and debris in our cities, roads, gutters and gardens, sending a cocktail of contaminants directly into the aquatic ecosystems that lie at the end of the pipe.

Politics and Society

Climate Change Is Making Calendars Run Amok
In the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia, time has stopped working. Communities in the region traditionally kept time by pegging it to environmental markers, such as melting snow or the first appearance of a migratory bird. But these “ecological calendars” have ceased to function properly due to the effects of climate change. An array of environmental shifts in the region, such as unusual weather events, untimely glacial melts, lake bursts, and changes in animal and bird migration patterns, have thrown the calendars so far off kilter that most villagers no longer use them, and they struggle to reliably predict cues for planning agricultural and cultural activities.

A yak herd crosses the high-altitude plateau of the Little Pamir Mountains, on the borders of China, Tajikistan, and Pakistan.

A yak herd crosses the high-altitude plateau of the Little Pamir Mountains, on the borders of China, Tajikistan, and Pakistan. Photograph by Matthieu Paley

The National Good Food Network
NEW ZEALAND – SBN’s Emily Dowding-Smith has spent the last two years bringing people together to help restore New Zealand’s food system. You could be part of the next phase.  New Zealand has a relatively uncrowded, fertile landscape. We bask in a climate that provides a long and strong growing season for all kinds of crops and livestock. This has created rich agricultural traditions that remain a key part of our economy. But something has gone wrong with this country and food.

Catalyst: Meditation (Video 25:28)
The Science of Meditation – can it really change you? From infamous criminals, to powerful corporations, to some of the world’s most successful athletes, meditation has never been so popular. But can it really make you smarter, happier and healthier? New research shows that it can affect the body as well as the mind, slow down the aging process, and even alter the structure of the brain. Dr Graham Phillips embarks on an eight week meditation course and undergoes a raft of rigorous brain tests and scans, to find out if the ancient art lives up to the current hype.

Regenerative development in Australia
Imagine a world where every single community and organisation aspired to become indigenous to place – a world where everyone can express their full humanity together with thriving living systems. This is the practice and promise of regenerative development.

Federal election 2016: Greens seek environment law reform
AUSTRALIA – The Greens will push to strip state governments of environment powers and give them to an independent federal authority as part of a $2.6 billion, six-year reform program to be announced today. A US-style federal environment protection authority would enforce laws aimed at putting an end to native forest logging, apply a strict precautionary approach to decision-making and outlaw ­future fossil fuel developments.


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