Sustainable Development News

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

Forest loss has halved in the past 30 years, latest global update shows
Forest loss has halved over the past 30 years according to the 2015 Global Forest Resources Assessment released yesterday. Between 1990 and 2015, global forest area declined by 3%, but the rate of loss has halved between the 1990s and the past five years. Most of this loss occurs in the tropics. Forests are a big deal. They provide us with clean water, they sequester and store carbon, they provide timber and non-timber forest products, and are vital to the everyday survival of many of the world’s poorest people, who live in and around forests. They also provide valuable habitat for animal and plants species. For example, tropical forests, while covering only 15% of the global land area, contain over 50% of land animals and plants.

Energy and Climate Change

New climate-change studies deepen concerns about a northern chill
Two new studies are adding to concerns about one of the most troubling scenarios for future climate change: the possibility that global warming could slow or shut down the Atlantic’s great ocean circulation systems, with dramatic implications for North America and Europe. The research, by separate teams of scientists, bolsters predictions of disruptions to global ocean currents – such as the Gulf Stream – that transfer tropical warmth from the equator to northern latitudes, as well as a larger conveyor system that cycles colder water into the ocean’s depths. Both systems help ensure relatively mild conditions in parts of Northern Europe that would otherwise be much colder.

‘We cannot be bought on climate change,’ Pacific island leader warns Tony Abbott
Several small island states could walk out on the Pacific Islands Forum if Australia and New Zealand force them to compromise on a declaration demanding an ambitious target to combat climate change. The president of Kiribati, Anote Tong, issued the ultimatum on the eve of the summit of 16 Pacific Island leaders on Tuesday, declaring: “We cannot negotiate this, no matter how much aid. We cannot be bought on this one because it’s about the future.”

Paris 2015: France’s Hollande warns climate talks may fail over financing issue
French President Francois Hollande warned on Monday that climate change talks in Paris later this year could fail especially if the issue of financing for emerging nations was not resolved. The United Nations said talks were on track for the November 30-Dececmber 11 summit after a week of negotiations in Bonn made progress in clarifying options about everything from cuts in greenhouse gas emissions to raising aid to developing nations. “Good intentions are there, but we are still far away from a legally binding agreement and financing that is up to the levels needed,” Hollande told a news conference. “There is even a risk of failure.”

Kirigami Paper-Cutting Art Inspires a Wild Solar Energy Idea
A new, cutting-edge concept for solar panels started with two tools: paper and scissors. Inspired by the Japanese art of kirigami, researchers at the University of Michigan have created a lattice-like cell that can stretch like an accordion, allowing it to tilt along the sun’s trajectory and capture more energy. They detail the idea in a paper published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

Solar is very cheap, but the model is broken, says Origin Energy
AUSTRALIA – “At the risk of being a little bit controversial, I think today’s rooftop solar market is broken.” That was major message that the head of Origin Energy’s solar business, Phil Mackey, delivered at RenewEconomy’s Disruption and the Energy Industry conference in Sydney on Tuesday. And it was, just a little, controversial. Mackey said solar is great, and cheap, and that it’s great that it’s cheap: “Solar is the cheapest form of energy” to get in the house, he said. But Mackey said there had been a market failure, the result of an incentive-driven boom that he said had been under-regulated, and left a legacy of problems – namely, underperforming solar systems – that has been built into the market.

Environment and Biodiversity

Sperm Whales’ Language Reveals Hints of Culture
The ocean around the Galápagos Islands hosts thousands of female sperm whales and their calves that have organized into clans with their own dialects. (Mature males congregate in colder waters near the poles.) How these clans form has been something of a mystery until now. A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications suggests that culture—behaviors shared by group members—keeps these sperm whale clans together. Specifically, these deep-diving whales have a distinct series of clicks called codas they use to communicate during social interactions.

Sharks in shallow, tropical water to thrive despite climate change danger for marine ecosystems, researchers say
Sharks found in shallow, tropical waters around northern Australia are well placed to cope with climate change according to Queensland researchers. With scientists warning climate change could warm and acidify the oceans as well as lower oxygen levels, any shift could be disastrous for marine ecosystems. But Townsville-based marine scientist Jodie Rummer has discovered the tiny epaulette carpet shark found across northern Australia and New Guinea is likely to thrive.

Stewart Island predator-free plans could cost $25m
NEW ZEALAND – Stewart Islanders are now able to mull over plans to make the island predator-free with indicative costs ranging between $6 million and $25 million. The Predator Free Rakiura (PFR) Governance Group has published three technical reports covering options for predator removal, details of a proposed predator fence, and biosecurity requirements to keep the island predator-free.

Economy and Business

Ten ways to effectively tell your business’ good story
Brands that are effectively telling their environmental and social stories are becoming more powerful. The Project NZ: Telling Good Stories conference, which took place at AUT University on 3 September, examined how you can use your brand as a voice for change through engaging your staff and markets. One of the key themes that emerged was that of story-telling: in order to persuade people to buy your products or services you need to tell authentic sustainability stories.

Solar powered aged care: how one booming Australian sector is driving another
In Queensland – where Treasurer Curtis Pitt last week named aged care as one of the state’s major future growth markets, in comments downplaying the economic importance of the state’s fossil fuel resources – two new PV installations on aged care facilities illustrate the growing connection between the two sectors. The first, a 100kW rooftop solar power installation for Loreto Nursing Home in Townsville, will produce around 180MWh annually of self-generated electricity, with a payback period of less than three years and returns of over 30 per cent.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Don’t chuck out your old mobile phones
NEW ZEALAND – Recycling comes in (inevitably) when a phone reaches end of life. Recycling of components and safe disposal of nasty stuff means no more phones or tablets leaching toxins into our landfill. Estimates of the number of mobile devices properly recycled around the world varies between a tragic four per cent and 17 per cent but even at the top end of that range there’s an awful lot not accounted for… How’s New Zealand doing? Subjectively (because accurate facts and figures are not published or don’t exist) the number of mobile devices recovered in the New Zealand market is towards the bottom end of the range. For a country that promotes a clean, green image this is a brand damaging performance.

TerraCycle expands its Australian reach
Two years since launching Australia, waste sector social enterprise TerraCycle’s business is booming, with around 70,000 people subscribed as collectors, and a number of major city councils and some of the region’s biggest firms now taking part in programs that aim to recycle “unrecyclable” waste streams.  General manager Anna Minns said new corporate partnerships have just been signed in New Zealand with Fonterra for the recycling of baby food pouches, The Collective for yoghurt pouches, and with Glad Wrap for the recycling of cling film. Nespresso and Colgate have also extended their Australian partnership arrangement to their respective New Zealand customer bases.

Politics and Society

Work stress just as bad as second-hand smoke
Whether due to unpaid overtime or an overbearing boss, many people suffer stress at work. Now, a new study has found it can be just as bad for a person’s health as second-hand smoke. Stress factors such as job insecurity and long working hours can all damage a person’s health, raise the odds of them having an illness diagnosed by a doctor and even lead to an early death. To come to their conclusions, the Harvard University team analysed evidence from 228 studies investigating stress in the workplace.

Only a global response can solve Europe’s refugee crisis
The recent deaths of asylum seekers attempting to reach European shores have prompted ongoing calls for action. But, given the scale of the issue, only a comprehensive, global program can go some way to solving the crisis.

Alan Kurdi was not a climate refugee
The desperate and the displaced of Syria’s war should not be cast as climate refugees, observers have told the Guardian, as this overstates the role of global warming in setting off the conflict. Many agree that the collapse began in March 2011, when a group of Syrian teenagers sprayed the words “Ash-shab yurid isqat an-nizam” on a wall in the southwest Syrian town of Dara’a. The words, which translate to ‘the people want to topple the regime’, were a rallying call of the Arab Spring in Tunis and Cairo. The boys were caught, beaten and tortured by president Bashar al-Assad’s secret police. Their powerful parents were enraged. Protests and repression spread and spiralled into the disaster that has sent hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing toward Europe’s uncertain reception.

Built Environment

Climate-smart cities could save the world $22tn, say economists
Putting cities on a course of smart growth – with expanded public transit, energy-saving buildings, and better waste management – could save as much as $22tn and avoid the equivalent in carbon pollution of India’s entire annual output of greenhouse gasses, according to leading economists. The Global Commission on Economy and Climate, an independent initiative by former finance ministers and leading research institutions from Britain and six other countries, found climate-smart cities would spur economic growth and a better quality of life – at the same time as cutting carbon pollution.

Former minister Lord Drayson launches clean air app
Former science minister Lord Drayson has launched an app that monitors air quality and encourages people to choose cleaner ways to travel. The CleanSpace app provides users with details of the local air quality, which Lord Drayson hopes will raise awareness of the problem. The app also rewards it users with CleanMiles for low emission journeys. Last year, a Commons select committee report described air pollution as a “public health crisis”.

Hemp Homes Could Hit New High As Growing Cannabis Gets Legal
The Declaration of Independence was drafted on paper made from it. Henry Ford built car parts with it. George Washington grew it. Now, as more farmers are allowed to harvest this multi-purpose plant, hemp might see a new heyday—in homes. The United States is rolling out a come-back mat for an ancient leaf that was widely used from Colonial times through World War II but fell into anti-drug disfavor. Its 2014 farm bill permits limited growing of hemp, the non-psychoactive cousin of the same cannabis plant that produces marijuana.

Angry birds: Shrubberies may be answer to Adelaide’s noisy and aggressive miner [sic] birds
A cold winter has caused a lack of insects and flowers, resulting in even more aggressive noisy miner [sic] birds this spring. Associate Professor David Paton from the University of Adelaide told 891 ABC Adelaide’s Drive program that with low levels of food this year, the normally boisterous birds were expected to provide more problems than usual for local native birds…  He said with the birds sometimes flocking in groups of up to 50, the noisy miners could push other birds completely out of an area. “There is a whole suite of woodland birds, both in the Mount Lofty Ranges near here but also in eastern Australia, that are declining,” Dr Paton said. “One of the causes of that is that they cannot access habitat because noisy miners are chasing them out.”

The Green ICT Book – No 1 in a new series on Greening Your Office (Free ebook)
Hot on the heels of our most recent hugely successful ebooks on topics ranging from sustainable precincts to the serialised and sometimes hilarious Tenants and Landlords Guide to Happiness comes a new four-part series of ebooks on Greening the Office. This important project is in collaboration with CitySwitch, the highly regarded program that’s managed to tap the sustainability veins – and appetite – of one of the most important planks in the Australian property industry, the tenants. From Sydney to Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane – and the smaller cities as well – Australia’s corporates are realising they need to get green. And that’s not just talking the talk that’s good for their branding, but walking the walk, which is good for their bottom line.

Food Systems

Farmer backs small-scale power legislation for fair pricing
NEW ZEALAND – A Waikato farmer with a solar-powered automated milking shed is backing a proposed Green Party bill to level the electricity playing field. As a small power generator, he wants to be paid the same for his excess power units as he pays the supplier.  Retired Piako dairy farmer Tony Hexter has seen plenty of changes in his four decades on the land – from iron-wheeled tractors to the near $1 million set-up that milks, tests and separates the herd. He’s handed the operations over to his son now and they’ve gone down the path to sustainable farming.


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