Sustainable Development News

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

These Farmers Slash and Burn Forests—But in a Good Way
Hin Lad Nai, Thailand—In the dark, unfurnished room where Chaiprasert Phokha sits, in a house on stilts, a sunbeam falls through the pane-less window and fills a glass jar with amber light. Phokha leans his wiry body into the light and pops the vacuum-sealed lid off the jar. With an encouraging nod, he passes it to me. The sweet aroma of rainforest blossoms fills my nostrils. “We’ve harvested 3,000 jars (1,500 lbs) of wild honey this year,” Phokha says. “All of it came from wild bees living in the forest around our village.”

Energy and Climate Change

We traced the human fingerprint on record-breaking temperatures back to the 1930s
In recent years climate scientists have looked at the role climate change played in unusual extreme weather events such as Australia’s hottest summer in 2012-13 and recent heatwaves. Before now no one had looked at how far back in time we could go and still link these weird weather events and record-breaking climate extremes to our influence on the climate.

Hotter planet spells harder rains to come – study
Severe rainfall has increased throughout the world’s wettest and driest regions and is set to intensify this century, new research suggests.  Since 1950, daily extremes have risen 1-2% a decade, a study published in journal Nature said on Monday.

Environment and Biodiversity

Losing Papua New Guinea’s rainforest
An area of Papua New Guinea’s internationally significant rainforests in excess of the size of Australia’s entire Wet Tropics Heritage Area in north Queensland has been cleared or logged in the 10 years to 2014, a new report has found.

Economy and Business

Greiner: Everything You Need to Know About Corporate Carbon Pricing, and Why
Advances in renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage are pushing us toward a more sustainable, low-carbon future, but an outright energy revolution is being held back by the fact that the market prices of coal, oil and gas include almost none of the costs of carbon pollution.

How energy efficiency helps business prepare for carbon pricing
In the United States, Congress has idled on any kind of significant climate change action, and many who oppose it maintain that implementing a national carbon tax would have dire economic consequences. The business community disagrees. Some 75 percent of the largest organizations — those with revenues between $1 billion and $10 billion — and 82 percent of all others feel they would be better off or unaffected if a mandatory price on carbon were instituted, according to new research from GreenBiz and Ingersoll Rand.

No carrot, no stick: Why Australian renewable projects are stalled
Australia’s large-scale renewable energy industry is stuck between a rock and a hard place: Despite legislation and an apparently firm 2020 target, and soaring prices for renewable energy certificates, the market remains at a virtual standstill. A whole slew of reports have been issued in recent weeks trying to analyse the situation. The latest, from UBS, suggests that the market remains stalled because the biggest electricity retailers (also known as gen-tailers because they have large generating plants) have little reason to invest – they suffer no penalties if they don’t invest, and risk cutting earnings from their existing fossil fuel plants if they do.

The electricity retailers who have failed to meet renewables target
AUSTRALIA – A handful of small electricity retailers have failed to meet their large-scale renewable energy targets for the 2015 year, meaning that $4.5 million in “penalty charges” will be paid by consumers to the government, rather than supporting the renewable energy industry.

US makes first payment of $500m to UN climate fund
The Green Climate Fund is designed to support developing countries that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change including rising sea levels, drought and floods and the US has pledged a total of $3 billion.

Electric car sales in China up 223% in 2015
A total of 188,700 NEVs were sold in China over the year, an increase of about 223 per cent compared to 2014. Around 124,000 electric buses and commercial vehicles were also deployed across China in 2015.

Impact investment sector set for major growth
The impact investment sector could see rapid growth in funds and assets over the next five years, according to research released this week by Impact Investing Australia and the University of Melbourne. The research shows that the sector has a preference for real assets that deliver market rates of return, and for investments that have documented and measurable social and environmental benefits, the researchers said. However, the survey showed the investors perceive there is a shortfall in investment opportunities in the areas the majority seek to have an impact – housing and homelessness, children and issues affecting young people, clean energy, education, health and medical research, and Indigenous people and communities.

4 tools to tell if your company is walking the walk on CSR
A slew of new tools on the market are making it easier for customers, investors, regulators and other stakeholders to better understand a company’s sustainability efforts.

The women working in Indonesia’s palm oil sector – in pictures #InternationalWomensDay
Access to land, capital and poor wages are just some of the problems faced by women working in the palm oil industry, producing a product found in everything from shampoo and lipstick to bread and margarine

Low wages, unsafe conditions and harassment: fashion must do more to protect female workers
The garment sector is great at employing women. At the bottom. While approximately 80% of the world’s garment workers are women, the number of women heading the 15 largest mass-market apparel companies on the Fortune 500 list is zero.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Dead animals, needles and shards: Recycling’s bizarre inner workings
I have a confession to make: I’m intimidated by those three-bin waste-sorting stations. They make me nervous, even as a professional waste specialist. You’d think I’d know whether the waxed carton goes in the recycling or the compost or the trash — but the truth is, I’m usually as confused as anyone else.

London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen to Collaborate on Circular Model for Plastics
From “competitors” to collaborators – several European cities in a race to be capitals of the next economy are joining forces to develop practical projects to accelerate the transition to a circular economy. London, Amsterdam and Copenhagen have announced they will work together to design a project that will improve the capture of plastics.

Politics and Society

Biopiracy: when indigenous knowledge is patented for profit
As genetic research becomes more sophisticated, so does our ability to use plants and animals to develop new drugs or modify crops to meet food security needs. Often, in the search for new bioresources, researchers draw on local people’s traditional knowledge about the properties of a particular plant, animal or chemical compound. When researchers use traditional knowledge without permission, or exploits the cultures they’re drawing from – it’s called biopiracy.

Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau to join forces on climate change
Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau will commit to work together to fight climate change and protect an Arctic experiencing the mildest winter ever recorded, sources familiar with the initiatives said. The two leaders were expected to announce a number of common climate measures at a meeting at the White House this week, from a 45% cut in methane emissions from the oil and gas industry to protections for a rapidly warming Arctic.

Reporting of recreational fishers catch likely to be ‘voluntary’, says Key
NEW ZEALAND – Prime Minister John Key says any proposal for recreational fishers to report their catch in some of New Zealand’s most popular fishing spots is likely to be voluntary. His comments come as an influential lobby group says the Government would risk a backlash similar to the furore over snapper bag limit restrictions if it went ahead with reporting requirements. Environment Minister Nick Smith confirmed today that fishers could be asked to report their catch within proposed recreational fishing parks in the inner Hauraki Gulf and the Marlborough Sounds.

Anton Van Heldon: Govt failing in duty to marine life (Opinion)
NEW ZEALAND – The Government’s announcement last year that it intends to create a Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary through special legislation is a great start towards providing protection for marine life within our broader ocean territory. Surprisingly, though, newly proposed marine protection legislation will not provide for any protection in the rest of our huge Exclusive Economic Zone.
You have until March 11 to make a submission to the Government on the proposed Marine Protected Areas Act.

116 Day MIT Sit-in Ends In Mediocre Deal For Climate Action
The longest ever sit-in for fossil fuel divestment concluded this earlier this month when an agreement was reached between student activists from Fossil Free MIT and MIT’s Vice President for Research, Maria Zuber.

Built Environment

Dreaming big with biomimetics: could future buildings be made with bone and eggshells?
In 2007 alone, steel and concrete were each responsible for more CO₂ emissions than the entire global aviation industry. Before reaching the construction site, both steel and cement must be processed at very high temperatures – and this takes a lot of energy. So how can we reduce our dependence on these “dirty” materials, when they play such a crucial role in construction?

Dresden’s mobile store embraces its closed-loop ethos
AUSTRALIA – Closed-loop approaches are more than just an ambition for recyclable eyewear company Dresden Optics, and the recent launch of a mobile workshop designed by architect Alexander Symes is taking the concept on the road. Symes formerly worked in facade engineering design and building physics with Arup before setting up his own architectural practice specialising in sustainable buildings across residential, multi-residential and healthcare.

The Dresden mobile workshop. Image Brett Boardman.

The Dresden mobile workshop. Image Brett Boardman.

Food Systems

Climate deadline looms for African food crops
Researchers have produced a timescale of how projected climate change is set to alter the face of agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. Climate change is widely projected to have a significant adverse impact on food security if no adaptation measures are taken, they explain. In their study, the team provides timings of the “transformations” needed to help minimise these impacts. The findings have been published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Insect Protein Company Exo Raises $4M in Series A Round
Alternative protein company Exo announced the close of a $4 million Series A funding round today. The company’s cricket flour protein bars are “formulated for taste” to “appeal to everybody”… “This is true innovation in the food space with transformative global implications. Exo is reimagining the food system, and protein bars are just the beginning,” added co-founder and Managing Partner, Jordan Gaspar.

Photo story: food resilience in Christchurch
NEW ZEALAND – The earthquakes have taught Christchurch a harsh lesson in the importance of a strong food supply chain and over the past five years amazing initiatives have sprouted. This is a city leading in the design of open spaces and food systems, with vegetable delivery services for low income families, farmers’ markets, and training in organics to help local growers.


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