Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Energy and Climate Change

Almost two-thirds of climate fund for developing nations already pledged
Rich countries and businesses have provided close to two-thirds of the financial assistance pledged to poorer nations as part of the global climate change negotiations, ahead of the Paris conference this December. The finding by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is a further clearing of the path to an agreement in Paris, as it helps countries to judge whether pledges made at previous meetings can be trusted.

Five things active monitoring will tell you about your solar PV panels
With the surge in solar system installations over the past five years, there is growing interest in performance and system quality. As a result, new monitoring systems are entering the market but, just as the quality of solar panels varies, monitoring systems range from cheap gimmicks to highly advanced product offerings. Choosing an advanced monitoring system gives home owners peace of mind and will save them money year after year, while retailers can offer maintenance support, energy efficiency, and system upgrades. What should you be looking for in monitoring solutions?

Renewable energy plan launched in Uralla
AUSTRALIA – A model to help towns plan a transition to 100 per cent renewable energy consumption has been launched on the New South Wales Northern Tablelands. Environment Minister Mark Speakman launched the plan in Uralla. Representatives from the town have been working on the Zero Net Energy Town Blueprint, a document that aims to guide towns as they move ‘off the grid’ and become energy self-sufficient, for over a year.

Aldi puts first solar on store in Tweed Heads, others to follow
Retailing giant Aldi is installing a 92.3kW solar system on its retail store in Tweed Heads, in northern New South Wales, in what could be the start of a widespread roll-out of solar PV on its Australian stores… Oliver Hartley, the head of solar power systems and energy consultancy Epho, which is doing the Tweed Heads project, says that the installation is a sign that the commercial part of the solar rooftop market is maturing, and recognising the ability to offset significant amounts of electricity demand.

Onshore windfarms cheapest form of UK electricity, report shows
New onshore windfarms are now the cheapest way for a power company to produce electricity in Britain, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). Costs have dropped to $85 (£55) per megawatt hour (MWh) compared with the current costs of about $115 for constructing coal or gas-fired plants, its analysis found. The price of wind, which has fallen from $108 just 12 months ago, compares with nuclear which Bloomberg assesses at $190 – the latter up on a year ago as project delays are factored in to developments.

Environment and Biodiversity

Scientists find gene that makes plants more carefree under climate stress
Research on agricultural resilience abounds, but the latest offering looks to plant genetics for a solution, bringing us a little closer to the goal of hardy crops. Plant cell biologists at the University of Oxford have discovered a gene that can be harnessed to give plants in a laboratory setting more resilience, making them thrive instead of whither when unfavourable conditions strike. The research, published this week in the print edition of Current Biology, revolves around a gene known as SP1, which is entwined with the makeup of all plants, and plays a regulatory function in photosynthesis.

Planting threatened species in wetlands makes the most of environmental water
AUSTRALIA – Environmental watering uses water formerly owned by irrigators to assist natural water environments. Three wetlands in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley are getting a drink with water collected for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.  Workers are now busy planting wetland shrubs and threatened species throughout the area.  Jo Wood, from the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority, said the effort will increase the benefits of the environmental water.  “We’re trying to bring back the diversity with the environmental water, but also give it a helping hand as well,” she said, talking over a chorus of pobblebonk frogs, native birds and other wetland creatures.

Hunter farmers urged reap the benefits of biodiversity project
AUSTRALIA – Hunter land owners are being urged to help strengthen a major biodiversity corridor in New South Wales by nominating their properties to be included. The Stepping Stone project is part of the bigger Great Eastern Ranges (GER) initiative that is aimed at stopping ongoing decline and mass extinction of species in eastern Australia. It is seeking to reconnect patches of bushland on private property to the nature corridor.

How you can help scientists track how marine life reacts to climate change
There are many factors that determine where a marine species will find a place to call home, such as wave exposure, salinity, depth, habitat and where other friend or foe species live… As our climate warms, we know some marine animals are already on the move, such as king crabs marching into Antarctica and tropical fish turning up in new regions of South Africa, New South Wales and as far south as Tasmania. These changes in distribution are seen as a key fingerprint of climate change. But as with many large-scale patterns and processes in ecology, the devil is in the detail, and overall it’s a pretty smudgy fingerprint.

Warnings after orca calf death in Hauraki Gulf
NEW ZEALAND – Warnings for boaties to use more care follow the death of an orca calf to probable boat strike. Its grieving mother was harassed, orca expert Dr Ingrid Visser says. A female orca with a dead calf was spotted off Tiritiri Matangi Island nearly a fortnight ago. The 2-month-old had been killed by “blunt force trauma” consistent with being struck by a boat.  The mother had then been carrying it for at least three days, Visser says. Out on the water observing, Visser was appalled at the behaviour of some people in boats around the pair. “Some boaties were respectful but others were more worried about getting their photos than caring about the grieving process that the mother was going through,” she says…

  • Boats should travel at less than 10 knots within 300 metres of any marine mammal, approaching them from behind and to the side, not crossing in front or through the group. No more than three boats are allowed at any one time within 300m. This also includes standup paddle boards.
  • Keep at least 50m from whales and orca and 200m from a mother and calf. Swimming with seals and dolphins is allowed, providing there’s no young, but not in the case of orca or whales.
  • Anyone striking a dolphin, whale or seal with a boat must report it within 48 hours to the DOC HOTLINE, 0800 362 468. If you see other people or boats harassing marine mammals, report it to the hotline as it is an offence to disturb, harass, injure or kill a marine mammal.
  • Any offence carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment or $250,000 fine.

NZ’s new reality TV familiy, the kaka-dashians
New Zealand has a new reality television family. People from all over the world can now tune in to watch a family of kaka going about their everyday business.  The kaka cam shows a live video feed of a kaka nest, broadcast on the Wellington City Council Website. Anyone can watch the family of one mother and five chicks all hours of the day and night.

Economy and Business 

Mainstreaming new economic models – sign up for our New York event
A growing number of individuals and organisations are questioning an economy based on limitless growth. There are two broad reasons, they argue, why such an economy is doomed to fail: firstly it exploits the people and depletes the resources it relies on to survive; secondly it is accompanied by unacceptable – even unworkable – levels of inequality, financial instability and social unrest… While particular communities, political groups and businesses may have adopted economic models that prioritise people, the environment and greater social justice, a key issue is how these models might be scaled up.

Oh no, we forgot about China – the flaw at the centre of the TPP
Like many trade policy initiatives, the newly finalised 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is motivated by a desire to help domestic exporters get better foreign market access. The key idea is one of mutual concessions – in exchange for foreign market access we give up some of our own subsidies or protection. Despite the headlines, however, the TPP agreement has little to do with the economic argument for free trade.

Fall in China’s coal use here to stay, leading expert says
The historic fall in China’s coal use is a clear and consistent trend and should be factored in by business, including in Australia, one of the world’s leading experts on Chinese environment policy says. Professor Qi Ye, director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Centre in Beijing, told Fairfax Media the stalling of growth in China’s consumption of coal for power reflected the current development strategy of the national government. Observers of China have been striving to interpret an 18-month fall in coal consumption – the first this century – that has followed otherwise significant growth in the decade previous.

Trans-Pacific Partnership bad for the environment, green groups say
The Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens to undermine environment protection and could limit governments’ ability to ramp up necessary action on climate change, green groups say. The TPP, as the deal involving 12 signatories including Australia is known, singles out illegal trade in wildlife, logging and fisheries as among areas its members will work on.  “The 12 Parties agree to effectively enforce their environmental laws; and not to weaken environmental laws in order to encourage trade or investment,” clause 20 in the agreement reads. But Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the Investor-State Dispute Settlement [ISDS] provisions of the pact will allow large corporations to challenge any efforts to tighten environmental regulation.

[Ed: On the side of optimism… businesses exist because of the products they sell, products people like you and me buy.  If informed people and groups stop buying from companies who abuse the environment, business will fail.  This can be seen in many of the news stories in this newsletter where more and more businesses, including big business, are incorporating social and environmental benefits into their operations.  Yes, at times it might be lip service, but any move in this direction is because they see the demands from society (consumers) for more responsible operations.  It is one of our responsibilities as citizens of this planet, to choose products carefully in order to further influence change.]

Waste and the Circular Economy

Brian Rudman: Put levy on plastic bags – the planet will thank us
NEW ZEALAND – On Monday, English supermarket shoppers caught up with the rest of the British Isles and faced a 12c levy on each disposable plastic carry-bag they used. It was the Government’s way of cutting down on the 7.6 billion one-use bags English shoppers use each year. As a way of sharply reducing rubbish, it’s been highly successful. In Wales, a similar surcharge resulted in a 71 per cent cut in plastic bag use, in Scotland, 80 per cent. In Ireland, an even steeper surcharge led to a 90 per cent reduction. Meanwhile, down here in 100 per cent pure New Zealand, we discard 1.6 billion plastic bags a year, yet the Government is happy to stand aside and leave it to the industry to do the right thing.

Politics and Society

Can we live more sustainably? The Whole Earth exhibition in pictures
How can we live better with less? That’s what the Whole Earth exhibition, a partnership between the Hard Rain project and the National Union of Students (NUS), is asking those studying around the world. The aim is to encourage young people to think about the future of the planet. Here are some of the best images.

Students protest against pollution in Russia. Pollution costs lives, particularly the lives of the young, the old and the infirm. Those behind the Hard Rain project say that by articulating the kind of world they want to live in and campaigning for it, students can be a powerful group.

Students protest against pollution in Russia. Pollution costs lives, particularly the lives of the young, the old and the infirm. Those behind the Hard Rain project say that by articulating the kind of world they want to live in and campaigning for it, students can be a powerful group.
Photograph: Zhdanov/Focus on Your World – UNEP

First the Netherlands, now Pakistan’s high court comes to defence of climate
The high court of justice in Lahore has ordered the creation of a “climate council” to force the Pakistani state to uphold its environmental commitments. A farmer went to the court with the charge that his “fundamental rights” had been breached by the lack of action on the part of Pakistan’s climate change minister. Pakistan has been hit by three consecutive years of deadly floods.

Built Environment

Auckland’s growth raises green threat
NEW ZEALAND – The biggest threat to Auckland’s environment continues to come from its own booming population, according to a comprehensive stocktake being presented to city councillors today. Auckland Council’s 2015 State of the Environment report – the first since 2009 – has presented a mixed bag of wins and woes when it comes to how the city’s blue and green backyard is coping. While there have been some regional-level improvements in air quality, and gains in protecting native species in places that are intensively managed, the continuing flow of sediments and contaminants from the city has kept marine and freshwater environments in slow decline.

Report: Australia’s car obsession is making us vulnerable
Cars and trucks are causing billions of dollars in congestion, health impacts and environmental damage, a new report released today (Wednesday) by the Australian Council of Learned Academies has warned. The body, which comprises the Australian Academy of Science, Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, Australian Academy of the Humanities and Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, warned in Delivering Sustainable Urban Mobility that Australian cities were becoming increasingly vulnerable to greater urbanisation, diminishing resources and climate change.

Anti-pollution cycling masks tested
Many British urban bike commuters opt to wear a helmet. Some also go for a hi-vis jacket. But considerably fewer use an anti-pollution mask, despite evidence that smog might be the biggest single danger you face on two wheels. According to a study carried out by Kings College London (KCL), around 9,500 people die in London alone every year due to long-term exposure to air pollution, with most deaths due to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulates known as PM2.5s.

‘Dieselgate’ is the wake-up call to look seriously at alternative car technologies
We should thank Volkswagen for the wake-up call. The scandal that has engulfed the company has highlighted how an overwhelming focus on carbon dioxide emissions has oversimplified the debate about the negative impacts of all our combustion engines…“Dieselgate” is forcing people to realise that most vehicles also produce harmful chemically reactive substances such as nitrogen oxides or tiny particulate matter…  No one can tell at this point if this is the end of the diesel engine but surely now is the right moment to look towards cleaner and more sustainable ways to power a car. Two key technologies are on the rise: electric vehicles, including hybrids, and fuel cell vehicles which run off hydrogen.

Choking Indian capital New Delhi vows pollution tax, car-free days to improve air
India’s polluted capital, New Delhi, will within two months impose a tax on commercial vehicles entering the city and prohibit the use of cars on certain busy routes once every month. High pollution levels have worried environmentalists, public and the authorities in the city of 16 million people, which the World Health Organisation last year said had the worst air quality in the world… Rai said his government will within two months impose a surcharge of up to 1,300 rupees ($20) on diesel-fuelled trucks that enter the city. For a longer-term solution, authorities are trying to build a peripheral road to divert traffic.

Poland’s second city to ban coal use after anti-smog law approved
The Mayor of Krakow has told the Guardian he will introduce a ban on coal use in households, offices, government buildings and restaurants after an amended Environmental Protection Act was signed by the country’s president, Andrzej Duda. Poland’s second largest city is as famed for the filthy smog that cakes its buildings and streets, as for its beautiful historic buildings. The European Environmental Agency has ranked it the third most polluted city in Europe and its particulate matter (PM) pollution can reach six times the safe levels.


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