Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Circular cities and the closed-loop economy | David Thorpe
Several cities have joined forces to chart their path to a future where they will create no waste and everything will be reused or recycled endlessly. Believe it or not, there is money in this, and it has a name: the closed loop economy.
[Ed: Check the bottom of the news article above for interesting books by this author]

Climate Change and Energy

World’s progress at making heating renewable is pitiful – here’s why
Heating amounts to a third of carbon emissions worldwide. In the UK, for example, only 6% of heating is renewable, mostly thanks to burning wood in homes and industrial biomass boilers. Clearly we can’t decarbonise without addressing this problem. So what’s stopping us? The political will has undoubtedly been lacking around the world as oil and gas have been cheaper for the last couple of years. But at the same time, heat is trickier to deal with than electricity. Heat is produced by millions of separate installations from different fuels and at different temperatures. The result is that heat metering is uncommon, which makes it harder to develop renewable heating policies or measure their effectiveness.

Environment and Biodiversity

Rise in atmospheric CO2 slowed by green vegetation
The growth in the amount of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere has been slowed by the increased ability of plants to soak up the gas. A new study says that green vegetation has helped offset a large fraction of human related carbon emissions between 2002 and 2014. Plants and trees have become more absorbent say the authors, because of so much extra CO2 in the atmosphere. The slowdown, though, can’t keep pace with the overall scale of emissions.

Huge Puffin Die-Off May Be Linked to Climate Change
The tufted puffins started washing ashore on St. Paul Island in mid-October—first a handful, then dozens, then so many that volunteers patrolling to collect dead birds began walking their four-wheelers rather than riding. It was easier than getting off every few feet. The hundreds of dead, emaciated puffins showing up on this isolated, wind-swept scratch of land in the Pribilof Islands in the middle of the North Pacific suddenly has scientists worried—about the population of this white-masked, orange-beaked seabird, but also about what their deaths may portend for the normally productive Bering Sea.

Most illegal ivory comes from recently killed elephants: new study
The multi-billion-dollar illegal ivory trade is almost entirely being fueled by recently killed African elephants, a new study has found. Tusks in illegal seizures usually come from elephants killed within the last three years, and rarely from “old” government or other stockpiles as has been previously suspected, researchers report in the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This is the first study of its kind to assess the age distribution of large ivory seizures, researchers say.

Radical overhaul needed to halt Earth’s sixth great extinction event
Life has existed on Earth for roughly 3.7 billion years. During that time we know of five mass extinction events — dramatic episodes when many, if not most, life forms vanished in a geological heartbeat. The most recent of these was the global calamity that claimed the dinosaurs and myriad other species around 66 million years ago.  Growing numbers of scientists have asserted that our planet might soon see a sixth massive extinction — one driven by the escalating impacts of humanity. Others, such as the Swedish economist Bjørn Lomborg, have characterised such claims as ill-informed fearmongering.  We argue emphatically that the jury is in and the debate is over: Earth’s sixth great extinction has arrived.

Catalyst: Swift Parrot Update (Video 11:17 with Transcript)
Last year we brought you a story about the swift parrot – one of Australia’s most charismatic birds, but also one of its most endangered. Logging and land-clearing have decimated their habitat but conservation biologist Dejan Stojanovic also made the startling discovery of why the parrot numbers were plummeting so rapidly – the deceptively sweet sugar glider was eating them. Mark Horstman returns to Bruny Island in Tasmania to witness their remarkable recovery.

The lessons we need to learn to deal with the ‘creeping disaster’ of drought
AUSTRALIA – Droughts are a natural feature of the Australian environment. But the Millennium drought (or “Big Dry”), which ran from 1997 to 2010, was a wake-up call even by our parched standards.  The Millennium drought had major social, economic and environmental impacts. It triggered water restrictions in major cities, and prompted severe reductions in irrigation allocations throughout the vast Murray-Darling Basin. The Millennium drought also highlighted that, compared to the rest of the world, the impacts of drought on Australia’s society and economy are particularly severe. This is mainly because our water storage and supply systems were originally designed by European settlers who failed to plan for the huge variability in Australia’s climate.

Economy and Business

Global trade 101: How NAFTA’s Chapter 11 overrides environmental laws
By the time NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) went into effect on January 1, 1994, the foundation for an environmental policy firestorm had been laid. The agreement, say NAFTA critics, included investment provisions that inherently created an uneven playing field, allowing corporate investors to directly sue national governments for mega-millions and ultimately sidestep domestic environmental laws. ISDS, the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism, established in 1966, isn’t exclusive to NAFTA, but is built into thousands of trade agreements. And as discussed in Part One of this Mongabay series, ISDS wasn’t originally meant to be the weapon of mass environmental destruction that many experts say it has become.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Could 3D printing help tackle poverty and plastic waste?
There are an estimated 15 million people globally who currently make their living from waste picking and many earn less than a dollar a day. A key problem, says environmental engineer Pai, is that workers only capture a tiny proportion of the value of the waste they collect, separate and transport to scrap dealers. Together with his parents, Suchismita and Jayant Pai, he founded social enterprise Protoprint in 2012, one of a number of organisations trying to address the twin issues of poor conditions for waste pickers and plastic waste pollution.

Circular economy can unlock £4bn ‘hidden’ UK reuse mine, says Veolia
Companies located in “strategically important” sectors in the UK are currently sitting on a £4bn “hidden mine” that can only be unlocked by transitioning to a circular economy that turns waste into a monetary and valuable resource, a new report from waste specialists Veolia has found.

Politics and Society

Top 2 to-dos to reach the Paris climate goals
If the science is discouraging, we now have the rare opportunity to extend a moment of hope into meaningful change as the [Paris] agreement entered into force Nov. 4. I see two distinct ways to help us meet, and even exceed, the goals of this historic climate deal:

  1. Use policy to unleash market-driven change
  2. Grow high-impact, global partnerships

‘Gutting’ of NSW environment protections a risk as new bills introduced, says Opposition
AUSTRALIA – The Baird government is on the cusp of “gutting” environment protection in the state with its introduction to two key sets of bills that could accelerate land clearing, Labor and the Greens say. A new bill overhauling the management of NSW’s crown land was introduced to the upper house on Tuesday and was expected to be voted on later in the day.

Mining company must reveal blacked-out documents
NEW ZEALAND – Activists have won the right to see hundreds of blacked-out pages of information about a proposed seabed mining operation off the Taranaki coast. Trans Tasman Resources (TTR) is seeking consent to mine 50 million tonnes of ironsand from up to 66 square kilometres of seabed.

Built Environment

This is humankind’s ‘great urbanisation’. We must do it right, or the planet will pay
Almost as staggering as the current enormous influx into cities across the globe is the dramatic slowdown in urbanisation that will follow it. The world is literally going to town on urbanisation – but it is a project that is both immense and historically fleeting. In less than 100 years, the world’s urban population is expected to double to 8 or 9 billion – accounting for the bulk of a projected global population of around 11 billion. Yet in all the centuries that follow this one, cities may add, at most, another billion to their ranks. So if this century is the most urbanising in history, it will also mark the end of humankind’s “great urbanisation” era.

AIRAH: Blower door testing should be part of NCC
AUSTRALIA – There is a clear economic case for blower door testing of building sealing to be incorporated into the National Construction Code, according to research just released by AIRAH’s new Building Physics Special Technical Working Group. For every dollar spent on testing, between $1.80 and $2.60 in economic benefit would be returned, the Improving Australian Housing Envelope Integrity report said.


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