Sustainable Development News

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

The State of Green Business: The circular economy revs up
The idea of a closed-loop world, where materials and resources are recycled endlessly and waste and pollution don’t exist, has been tantalizing since the dawn of the modern environmental movement. That vision is moving closer to reality as the notion of a circular economy has become a topic of conversation among some of the world’s biggest companies.

Energy and Climate Change

How to get the best value for money out of the coming home battery boom
When new technologies are launched, they often cost quite a lot of money, so only a few people buy them. In marketing-speak, these people are “innovators” or “early adopters”. Then as more people buy the product the cost per unit goes down, in turn encouraging even more people to buy it, in a virtuous pricing circle known as Rogers’ Diffusion Curve.

‘Wrong type of trees’ in Europe increased global warming
The assumption that planting new forests helps limit climate change has been challenged by a new study. Researchers found that in Europe, trees grown since 1750 have actually increased global warming. The scientists believe that replacing broadleaved species with conifers is a key reason for the negative climate impact.

Sea-level rise ‘could last twice as long as human history’
Even if global warming is capped at governments’ target of 2C – which is already seen as difficult – 20% of the world’s population will eventually have to migrate away from coasts swamped by rising oceans. Cities including New York, London, Rio de Janeiro, Cairo, Calcutta, Jakarta and Shanghai would all be submerged.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions from vegetable crops is possible, researchers believe
Tasmanian researchers believe they have found a way to reduce some greenhouse gas emissions from vegetable crops. The Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) has been using small gas chambers to measure nitrous oxide emissions from potato and poppy crops across the state. Nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas which is a bi-product of vegetable production, is about 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Environment and Biodiversity

Explainer: what is the gut microbiota and how does it affect mind and body?
The human gastrointestinal tract harbours trillions of microorganisms, consisting of up to 1,000 or so different bacterial species. These bacteria, known collectively as the gut microbiota, perform a number of vital functions in our body. They defend against pathogens, aid in digestion and nutrient absorption, produce vitamins (K and B), and boost our immune system. The gut microbiota also has the potential to influence our brain development and behaviour.

Relax, shark numbers aren’t booming, but more research can make us safer
Anyone who says that they can confidently predict when, where or why sharks bite people is almost certainly wrong, regardless of whether they’re a scientist, a politician or a journalist. Why? Partly because we simply don’t know enough about sharks to anticipate their moves, and partly because attacks are so rare. Despite the media hype, you’re still more likely to drown than be bitten by a shark.

Virus that’s killing honeybees caused by humans: study
The global spread of a virus that deforms the wings of honeybees and kills them in droves was caused by humans, new research has found. According to the study published this week in Science, the problem dates back to the mid-20th Century when Asian honeybees traded widely in the former Soviet Union were introduced to Europe and paired with honeybees there. For centuries, Asian honeybees had learned to fend off a mite that used them as a host while feeding on their blood, but European honeybees did not recognise them as a pest.

Bears hibernate ‘with bacterial help’
Researchers have discovered seasonal changes in the gut microbes of brown bears, which apparently help the beasts cope with the demands of hibernation.

Scientists aim to bring whitebait back to Christchurch rivers
NEW ZEALAND – Scientists have found an innovative way to bring whitebait back to Christchurch’s rivers, following years of post-quake decline. In the largest initiative of its kind, scientists have installed temporary spawning points for inaka, the most common type of whitebait in Christchurch, along a three-kilometre stretch of the Heathcote River. They have discovered an ideal artificial habitat for whitebait to spawn in – the humble hay bale.

Satellites, Drones Catching Companies Destroying the Planet
Aerial imaging is emerging as an invaluable resource for collecting information and enforcing the law, especially when it comes to environmental protection. Satellite and drone technologies are getting increasingly smaller, cheaper, and easier to use, and are producing higher resolution images. Among other opportunities, the tech has enabled organizations and startups to more accurately monitor environmental destruction and provide data as legal evidence.

Global Fishing Watch's software allows commercial fishing activity to be tracked in real-time using a combination of data from satellites and ships' on-board systems. | Image Credit: Global Fishing Watch

Global Fishing Watch’s software allows commercial fishing activity to be tracked in real-time using a combination of data from satellites and ships’ on-board systems. | Image Credit: Global Fishing Watch


Repeated cattle in water sightings a ‘marketing disaster’ – tourism industry
NEW ZEALAND – Some farms have been subject to more than a dozen complaints, in some cases spanning over a decade, for repeatedly allowing stock to wade in waterways. Complainants say they have watched their local rivers be destroyed while nothing is done.

Perth heatwave putting city’s water supplies under pressure
AUSTRALIA – Western Australia’s water utility said Perth had felt the effects of climate change more than anywhere else in the world, and it has had to bring forward its planning to ensure there is enough water to go around. “Last year the run-off into our dams was the lowest since records began [in 1911], we got 11 billion litres in the dams and we lose about 14 billion litres a year in evaporation,” Water Corporation chief executive Sue Murphy said.

Spanish water rights fight raises fears for Ebro delta
Environmentalists say one of Europe’s most important wetland areas is under threat as Spain and Catalonia argue about the future of the Ebro river. Campaigners say Spanish government plans to restrict water flow could destroy the fragile landscape. They are worried that ultimately these waters could be transferred to other, drier regions of Spain.

Economy and Business

Communities urged to ‘stay the course’ as report finds environmental watering helps fish, birds
AUSTRALIA – The first longterm report into the effects of environmental watering in the Murray-Darling Basin has found improvements for native fish, birds and vegetation. It comes as a Senate inquiry weighs the impact of the Basin Plan on river communities, who say the policy has sent a ‘wrecking ball’ through their towns and industries.

Does the Digital Economy Need Direction?
There is a consensus opinion that a rapid increase in the number of connected devices will play a role in reshaping the global economy over the next couple of decades. A McKinsey report has predicted that the number of internet-connected devices could grow to as much as 50 billion by 2020. Meanwhile, Cisco recently estimated that the trend could represent a $19 trillion economic opportunity globally. However, the real benefits of the new digital technologies is realised when the technical developments are combined with the evolution of a more effective economic system.

Ikea quietly stops selling solar panels to UK householders
Ikea has quietly stopped selling solar panels to UK householders after the government signalled a drastic cut in solar subsidies and just two years after a media-friendly national launch.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The waterless toilet that turns your poo into power
Human excrement is rife with pathogens, “odorant volatiles” (the chemicals that make it smell) and parasites, but it has something going for it: it’s about 75% water. What’s more, water is the smallest of all its component molecules.  It’s these qualities of our faecal matter that got researchers at Cranfield Water Science Institute thinking about how to make a new kind of toilet that can provide safe sanitation to the 2.5 billion people around the world who do not currently have it.

5 Steps Every Food Retailer Should Take to Eliminate Food Waste
Campaigners for action on food waste have had much to celebrate recently. Does this mean food retailers have already cracked it and successfully steered their industry away from a full-blown reputational crisis? Far from it. Ambition must quickly be followed by action because food waste is a highly visible, emotional issue. Rarely have consumers been so animated and demanding of business to change the way it operates.

Politics and Society

#InequalityIs: a Barrier to a Sustainable Future
In a new campaign by the Ford Foundation to tackle inequality they have been exploring exactly what #InequalityIs and how it negatively impacts our businesses and societies. B Team Leader and CEO of Unilever, Paul Polman, and our Managing Director, Rajiv Joshi, both shared their thoughts via video here.

Heat to stay on CSIRO climate cuts amid claims Malcolm Turnbull was ‘blindsided’
AUSTRALIA – Leading scientists will use a national conference on Monday to appeal to the Turnbull government to intervene to reverse plans by the CSIRO to eliminate most of its climate roles amid claims the Prime Minister was “blindsided” by the move.


Is Australian coal finally having its “oh sh*t” moment?
AUSTRALIA – In Queensland, the state’s peak resources body issued an SOS on Monday, calling for taxpayer support – or government tax relief, or more subsidies – for the state’s coal mines, after a study revealed that one third of them were running at a loss.

See also: Cool response to coal industry pleas for help | ABC News

Govt urged to help buy beach
NEW ZEALAND – A crowdfunding campaign to raise $2 million to buy the land at Awaroa and secure public access has received pledges of about $1.27 million. Labour Party leader Andrew Little said the government should follow the lead of the donors, and pay what was left of the purchase price.

Whakatane: Souvenir trap
NEW ZEALAND – …the best souvenir I think I’ve ever bought is the stoat trap I picked up after a trip to Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty. In the Bay we met up with Lynda Walter from the Whakatane Kiwi Trust and she told us all about the amazing work being done by the trust’s wonderful team, most of whom are volunteers. Having started out with four naturally occurring kiwi pairs in 2000, the area around Ohope Beach has become something of a wildlife sanctuary, even though there is no fence to keep the predators out.

Obama using final budget request to push for action against climate change
Barack Obama called on Congress to double funding for clean energy research on Saturday, using his final budget request – and one of the last high-profile moments of his presidency – to push for action against climate change. The president said his final budget on Tuesday would propose doubling clean energy research spending from $6.4bn to $12.8bn by 2020.

White House wants $10 per barrel fee on oil
Does this mean food retailers have already cracked it and successfully steered their industry away from a full-blown reputational crisis? Far from it. Ambition must quickly be followed by action because food waste is a highly visible, emotional issue. Rarely have consumers been so animated and demanding of business to change the way it operates.

First steps towards meeting the global goals – your stories and images
At the start of the year, we asked you what initial moves you were making to achieve the sustainable development goals. Here are your stories and images

Built Environment

In a heatwave, the leafy suburbs are even more advantaged
…Some communities and areas need trees more urgently than others. Shade is not only a matter of public health; it is a social equity issue. In a warming city like Melbourne, some of the most socially vulnerable people are in areas that are most exposed to extreme heat. Our pilot research in Melbourne suggests that integrated social and ecological data sets should be used to develop programs that reduce socioecological vulnerability.

South-east SA lacks technology to fully capitalise on greatest change to forestry in decades
AUSTRALIA – Described as the biggest change to forestry in decades, buildings up to eight stories are now permitted to be built using timber products.  In the past, any structure over three stories high had to made using concrete or steel reinforcement.

BioMason: Replicating Coral To ‘Grow’ Bricks
A building materials company that “grows” bricks and masonry from scratch without using heat. It’s fair to say that BioMason is an unusual startup. Brick-making is usually a practice that requires large amounts of heat and energy, but the North Carolina based business uses a process that is a millions of years old for the same effect.

Environment the real winner at Superbowl 50
The San Francisco 49-ers Levi’s stadium, which hosted the world’s most watched sports event, is the first of its kind to be awarded gold certification based on its Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). And, although the previous two years had seen progress made in terms of the environmental impact of the event, this year’s event really took it to the next level.

Food Systems

Duck eggs hatch into growing business for Taranaki couple
Forget chickens, duck eggs are the next big thing. After doing their research about the health benefits of the duck eggs, Taranaki couple Dawn and Glen Bendall have started to make a living out of making people, including themselves, healthier. “It’s not just about us and the ducks, it’s about helping people,” Dawn said.

Fonterra to pay organic milk farmers at market rates
NEW ZEALAND – Fonterra’s organic farmers are set to cash in on potentially higher prices for their milk amid a “dramatic rise in interest and commitment to organics”, according to an industry rival.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.