Sustainable Development News

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

Why General Mills aims to harvest the $50 billion benefits of healthy soil
USA – It took less than a century for the global population to explode from less than 2 billion people to 7 billion people today. It will take a great deal more coordination to ensure that the earth’s soils are able to provide for all those individuals’ growing demand for food, fuel and fiber. A 10-step plan for soil health, presented by the Nature Conservancy and the Soil Health Institute at the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) 2016 conference last week, casts hope that by partnering with big food companies, U.S. farmers will steward soils to be more productive and resilient.

Energy and Climate Change

Trump ‘threat’ to dominate UN climate negotiations
Concerns over a Trump presidency are set to dominate the early days of global climate talks in Morocco. Some 20,000 participants are meeting in Marrakech for two weeks, starting on Monday, to agree new rules to limit warming on the planet. These plans were boosted when the Paris Climate Agreement came into force last week.

The world is racing to stop climate change. But the math still doesn’t add up
The entire globe is moving fast to stop climate change. The Paris climate agreement enters into legal force on Friday, and then shortly afterwards comes a first global meeting to start implementing it in Marrakech, Morocco. (Yes, there’s also a U.S. election in there somewhere that could, er, complicate things.) But this flurry of activity nonetheless faces a grim mathematical reality, a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme finds… “It’s just too little, and it’s not happening quickly enough,” said Jacqueline McGlade, UNEP’s chief scientist. “If we don’t see emissions peaking by 2020, then the chances of getting to 1.5 degrees is vanishingly small.”

2015’s record-breaking temperatures will be normal by 2030 – it’s time to adapt
In a new study just released in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, I (together with co-authors Andrew King and Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick) find that on the current greenhouse gas emissions trajectory, global temperatures like 2015 will by normal by 2030, and Australia’s record-breaking 2013 summer will likely be an average summer by 2035.  While we still have time to delay some of these changes, others are already locked in – cutting emissions will make no difference – so we must also adapt to a warmer world. This should be a sobering thought as world leaders gather in Marrakech to begin work on achieving the Paris Agreement which came into force last week.

COP22 host Morocco launches action plan to fight devastating climate change
“Last December we had temperatures of 25C. Normally it is 1 or 2C at that time of year,” says Mohammed Ibrahimi, a farmer with one hectare of apple trees in Boumia, a village near Midelt in Morocco. “These trees need at least 1,200 hours of near-freezing temperatures in the winter to help them to regenerate. This year they flowered very late; the harvest was a month late and I harvested just 20 tonnes when I’d expected 40 tonnes.”

Growth vs the environment … climate change a challenge for China’s authoritarian system
The gleaming towers of Shanghai belie the Chinese commercial hub’s vulnerability to climate change, and the city is spending billions to try to protect itself, but experts say the country’s authoritarian system is a hidden weakness. According to a report last year by Climate Central, a US-based research group, the low-lying megacity is, in population terms, the world’s most at risk from rising sea levels. A two-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures would inundate land currently lived on by 11.6 million people, it said – by far the world’s highest.

P2P energy sharing start-up brings Brooklyn Microgrid smarts to Australia
AUSTRALIA – One of the architects of the peer-to-peer energy trading platform behind the world-leading Brooklyn Microgrid in the US has set up an office in New South Wales, with plans to trial its “TransActive Grid” technology in Australia. LO3 Energy opened an office in Byron Bay on Monday, as part of a global rollout of demonstration microgrid sites based on its proven peer-to-peer trading platform.

Policy Exchange: Flexible energy system could save Britain £8bn by 2030
A smarter, more flexible power system which takes advantage of low-carbon innovations and technologies such as battery storage and demand response could create savings for the UK to the tune of £8bn by 2030, according to new research from thinktank Policy Exchange.

Environment and Biodiversity

Planetary Boundaries and Social Thresholds – The Importance of Geography
Global sustainability challenges require global solutions, but geography is also important in understanding the context to different sustainability challenges facing our planet. Consider the nine planetary boundaries and eleven social thresholds, it becomes evident that different regions face different sustainability challenges.

Wind farms might be killing many more bats than we realize
It’s no secret that wind power has experienced a boom in recent years, as demand for renewable energy sources grows. But while the technology is adept at helping curb greenhouse-gas emissions, the thousands of new turbines popping up around the globe do have some drawbacks. Wind farms have a long-documented history of killing hundreds of thousands of birds and bats each year. As it turns out, the bat toll may be higher than previously estimated.

Asia races to save the Critically Endangered helmeted hornbill
The helmeted hornbill looks more like a dinosaur than a modern bird, but it is a keystone species of Asian forests; its “red ivory” makes it a prime target of traffickers.

The helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) is one of Southeast Asia’s most unique birds, with a large ivory-like casqued beak that is used by males in head-to-head aerial combat. The scarlet-colored “red ivory” casques are highly valued by illegal traffickers. Photo © Y. Hadiprakarsa/IHCS

The helmeted hornbill (Rhinoplax vigil) is one of Southeast Asia’s most unique birds, with a large ivory-like casqued beak that is used by males in head-to-head aerial combat. The scarlet-colored “red ivory” casques are highly valued by illegal traffickers. Photo © Y. Hadiprakarsa/IHCS

Great Barrier Reef authority a ‘shell of its former self’, says Queensland minister
Queensland’s environment minister has flagged concerns that the agency tasked with protecting the Great Barrier Reef is running as a “shell of its former self” amid the underfunding of a cornerstone program. Steven Miles called on the federal government to fast-track an extra $1.65m for the main “on-water” management program for the reef, which had seen no increase to its funding since 2008.

‘In our view, everyone owns the water’
NEW ZEALAND – A Māori water rights claim aims to protect and conserve water for all New Zealanders, the lead claimant has told a Waitangi Tribunal hearing. The Māori Council is asking the Waitangi Tribunal to establish what rights Māori have to fresh water and geothermal resources, after the government put shares in state-owned power companies up for sale. At the second stage of the hearing, which began yesterday, Māori Council chairman Sir Eddie Durie said he disagreed with Prime Minister John Key’s stance that no-one owns water.

This Bangladeshi woman can tell you why the latest round of climate talks matter
For almost three years now, as part of my research I have listened to the stories of those who know best what it is like to live on the frontlines of climatic stress and disasters in Bangladesh.  Through the Gibika project, my colleagues and I interviewed people in seven study sites across Bangladesh about the impacts on livelihoods due to the environmental stress they are facing.

Bhokul has faced the loss of her family’s land, and the loss of their income. Now climate change threatens her livelihood even more. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson/UNU-EHS, Author provided

Bhokul has faced the loss of her family’s land, and the loss of their income. Now climate change threatens her livelihood even more. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson/UNU-EHS, Author provided

When we embarked on this project, we asked ourselves: how can we make sure that the histories of these people are listened to? It was clear that the answer was not by having us repeating their stories over and over again in academic journals.Therefore, instead of just publishing our interviews in project reports or journal articles, we worked with our interviews to produce photo film documentaries.

Economy and Business

Australian unions call for ‘just transition’ from coal-generated electricity
Australian unions have thrown their weight behind a transition away from coal-generated electricity, calling for a new statutory authority to manage a “just transition”, supporting workers and communities that rely on fossil fuel-related jobs. A policy discussion paper written by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) said a planned closure of coal power stations – along with both a jobs and energy plan for the country – would “create a more prosperous and diversified economy”.

Ignoring sustainability in favour of short-termism will cause financial ruin, warns major investor
Companies that fail to realise the long-term benefits of sustainable investment will see their financial returns collapse, one of Britain’s biggest investment groups has said. Speaking to edie on the sidelines of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap report launch in London yesterday (4 November), Hermes Investment Management chief executive Saker Nusseibeh insisted that strong business performance on environmental issues now makes complete economic sense, delivering greater shareholder value at lower risk.

Politics and Society

Company directors can be held legally liable for ignoring the risks from climate change
Company directors who don’t properly consider climate related risks could be liable for breaching their duty of due care and diligence, a new legal opinion has found.  Although the alarm for business leaders has been sounding for some time, the release of the opinion by senior barristers and leading solicitors confirms the potential liability for Australian company directors.

Q&A: Naomi Klein criticises Institute of Public Affairs over climate interventions
AUSTRALIA – Naomi Klein delivered a stinging rebuke to Australia’s approach refugees and climate change, as well as criticising interventions from the Institute of Public Affairs, in a fiery episode of ABC’s Q&A on Monday night. The Canadian journalist, author and winner of the 2016 Sydney peace prize appeared on the panel alongside two panellists from the free-market thinktank the IPA, Anthony Albanese and writer Don Watson.
Watch on iView: Q&A Naomi Klein, Anthony Albanese, James Paterson, Don Watson, Georgina Downer

Climate change at the Great Barrier Reef is intergenerational theft. That’s why my son’s in this story
The short film I’ve made with the Guardian stars my son, Toma, aged four years and five months. That’s a little scary for me to write, since, up until this moment, my husband, Avi, and I have been pretty careful about protecting him from public exposure. No matter how damn cute we think he’s being, absolutely no tweeting is allowed. So I want to explain how I decided to introduce him to you in this very public way.
See also: Naomi Klein at the Great Barrier Reef: what have we left for our children? – video

Built Environment

Protesters demand action as New Delhi chokes under ‘toxic’ smoke cloud
Mask-wearing protesters took to the streets of the Indian capital on Sunday as the city remained blanketed under a cloud of toxic smoke that has lingered for a week and sparked anger at the government’s slow response. Thousands of schools have been shuttered, cricket matches cancelled and residents warned to stay inside as the air pollution crisis in New Delhi and the surrounding metropolitan region – deemed an “emergency situation” by the environment minister on Saturday – stretched into its seventh day.

New Delhi smog selfies show ‘poison’ covering city
As India’s capital deals with the crippling effects of air pollution, the people who live there are reaching out to the world on social media by posting smog selfies. Residents and tourists in New Delhi have shared pictures of themselves online shrouded in the thick polluted air that one person dubbed the “airpocalypse”.

Design to turn Basin Reserve into wetland could win students an international award
NEW ZEALAND – Plans to restore the Basin Reserve as a wetland could win two landscape architecture students an international award.  Victoria University of Wellington landscape architecture students William Rei-Paku Hatton and Yousr Ali could be heading to Los Angeles after their fourth-year landscape architecture design was shortlisted for an AECOM Urban SOS award.

Food Systems

Tax meat and dairy to cut emissions and save lives, study urges
Climate taxes on meat and milk would lead to huge and vital cuts in carbon emissions as well as saving half a million lives a year via healthier diets, according to the first global analysis of the issue. Surcharges of 40% on beef and 20% on milk would account for the damage their production causes people via climate change, an Oxford University team has calculated. These taxes would then deter people from consuming as much of these foods, reducing both emissions and illness, the team said.

Nanogirl: How green are your greens?
Vegetarians have often argued that their diet is more environmentally friendly than the diets of omnivores. It makes sense; if we feed plants to animals and then eat those animals, we will use more resources and produce more greenhouse gases than if we just ate the plants to start with. Food labelling has enabled us to see how many calories and what nutrients a beef burger has compared to a veggie burger, but what about food labelling to compare their environmental impact? Research just published in the Journal of Cleaner Production compiled the first comprehensive carbon footprint league table for fresh foods.

Bogong moths: the bush tucker superfood swarming Canberra
AUSTRALIA – They sweep over Canberra each year in the hundreds of thousands, from the cracked, black soil where they were born into the cool dark crevices of the mountains of the Great Dividing Range. But bogong moths aren’t just a marauding horde invading our houses, hot water systems and halls of power – they are a superfood that tastes a little like “charred pork fat”.


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