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

If the world’s soils keep drying out that’s bad news for microbes (and people)
Deep beneath our feet, out of sight and out of mind, millions of tiny communities of microbes are working together to perform key functions for the ecosystem. They provide services that are essential for human development and wellbeing, such as food and fibre production, nutrient cycling and climate regulation. The scale of these communities is staggering. The microflora in soils are the most abundant group of organisms on Earth. A teaspoon of soil contains up to a billion bacteria, several metres of fungal filaments, and thousands of protozoa and nematodes. Yet, like many plant and animal communities, microflora are facing new threats due to climate change.

Energy and Climate Change

Five reasons ‘oil bulls’ are wrong according to the International Energy Agency
The International Energy Agency has issued a blunt slap down to the so-called “oil bulls” who see an imminent rebound in prices and the market returning to a more stable supply and demand equilibrium. The OECD’s Paris-based energy forecaster said a price rally late last month was most probably a false dawn for struggling oil producers.

Canada Gives ~$46 Billion Per Year In Fossil Fuel Subsidies
The Canadian government subsidizes the fossil fuel industry in the country to the tune of around $46.4 billion a year, according to a report from the IMF last year — with $1.4 billion of this referring to pre-tax subsidies, and a further $44.6 billion referring to externalized costs to society that aren’t accounted for.

Why Norway may open up spectacular Lofoten archipelago to oil and gas firms
At the start of each year, Norway hands out new licences for offshore oil and gas development. Typically, these “Awards in Predefined Areas” (APA) receive little coverage outside of the specialist media. But this year was more controversial, after the country’s energy minister argued that the environmentally-sensitive Lofoten islands “must at some point come into play”.

Tasmanian bushfires: Firefighters gear up for at least four more weeks battling blazes
The Tasmania Fire Service (TFS) has planned for another month of bushfire operations, but is expecting blazes to continue burning in remote areas for weeks after.

Photo: Bushfires have burnt through tens of thousands of hectares, including parts of the World Heritage Area

Photo: Bushfires have burnt through tens of thousands of hectares, including parts of the World Heritage Area

Climate change driving species to the Earth’s poles faster than predicted, scientists say
Warming temperatures are pushing land and sea creatures closer to the north and south poles and to cooler altitudes at rates faster than first predicted, scientists say. Scientists from 40 countries are gathering in Hobart [Australia] for a four-day conference about how climate change is forcing species to move, including humans.

Environment and Biodiversity

Zika Raises the Question: Are Mosquitoes Necessary?
The mosquito—tiny, frail, eminently squishable, and yet capable of such destruction.  In the wake of a rapidly expanding Zika virus epidemic, many have talked of declaring war on the insect responsible for transmitting many of the world’s worst diseases. But what would happen to the environment if—poof—all the mosquitoes simply disappeared? The short answer is no one knows.  There’s no question, though, that each of the 3,500-plus mosquito species has its own role to play in nature.

To antifoul, or not to antifoul?
Every couple of years a liberal coat of toxic anti foul paint is needed on a boat’s hull to stop the colonisation of barnacles, weed and other organisms on the hull. Is there an alternative to poisoning our sea?

Catalyst: Crown of Thorns Starfish
AUSTRALIA – Despite a new, potent injectable to help divers kill record numbers of Crown of Thorns Starfish, the plague continues to eat huge swathes of the Great Barrier Reef down to white skeletons. Reporter Anja Taylor visits some QLD scientists working on creative ways of controlling their numbers, from robot starfish terminators to the terrifying smell of giant underwater snails.

Bacteria ‘see’ like tiny eyeballs
Biologists say they have solved the riddle of how a tiny bacterium senses light and moves towards it: the entire organism acts like an eyeball. In a single-celled pond slime, they observed how incoming rays are bent by the bug’s spherical surface and focused in a spot on the far side of the cell… This makes them “probably the world’s smallest and oldest example” of such a lens, the researchers write in the journal eLife.

Critics fear RSPO’s stricter palm oil standards will create two-tier system
The world’s leading body for the certification of sustainable palm oil has created new standards to tackle deforestation, human rights violations and greenhouse gas emissions on certified plantations. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) published the RSPO Next standards on 9 February following rising pressure from industry and campaigners who claim that certified firms are still participating in deforestation, land-grabbing and the destruction of biodiversity, such as the loss of habitat for orangutans.

Breastfeeding mother ‘amazed’ by orangutans’ reaction during Melbourne Zoo visit
A breastfeeding mother has had an emotional encounter with two orangutans at Melbourne Zoo. Elizabeth was at the zoo on Sunday with her family, celebrating her three-year-old daughter’s birthday. Her 13-week-old son Eli was hungry so she walked around the corner to breastfeed him in private. That is when two orangutans came over to watch.

Illegal eel: black market continues to taint Europe’s eel fishery
The European Eel species (Anguilla anguilla) is a centuries-old staple in European cuisine, but in the last 45 years, it’s undergone estimated declines of 90-95 percent that make it a critically endangered species today.

Economy and Business

Researchers from ASU, Yale, NOAA Develop Equation for Calculating Value of Natural Capital
Many businesses have come to better understand the critical importance of nature as an input, but the question still remains as to how its value compares to other assets — not as lumber or drinking water or a fancy dinner, but as standing forests, healthy aquifers or living organisms. Arizona State University economist and sustainability professor Joshua Abbott can calculate an answer. Abbott  published findings on such values today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

‘You can’t put a price on this’, says owner of 172ha eco-sanctuary up for sale
Perry Reid is not out ruling selling his 172-hectare eco-tourism venture on the Otago Peninsula to foreign interests. He has put Natures Wonders, a working sheep and beef farm, conservation estate and tourism business, out for tender. The Taiaroa Head property boasts endangered wildlife, including yellow-eyed penguins, blue penguins, fur seals and albatrosses. “It is probably one of the most pristine and special places left in New Zealand hands,” Reid said.

Natures Wonders is one of the "most pristine and special places left in New Zealand hands", its owner says.

Natures Wonders is one of the “most pristine and special places left in New Zealand hands”, its owner says.

Telstra takes on energy utilities with home solar and storage plan
Australian telecommunications giant Telstra plans to accelerate the rollout of solar and battery storage technologies, and is looking to offer home energy services to millions of consumers in the first sign it will take on the major energy utilities.

WWF’s Markets Institute Out to Advance Sustainable Food Production
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has launched the Markets Institute, a dedicated platform working with stakeholders — particularly the private sector — to increase the speed and scale of market-based approaches to help optimize global food sector sustainability.

NZ Post achieves international recognition for sustainability
NZ Post has been internationally recognised for its sustainability initiatives by Accounting for Sustainability at its recent summit in London alongside leading global businesses.

CSIRO job cuts

CSIRO chief defends climate research cuts as staff weigh up industrial action
The chief executive of the CSIRO, Larry Marshall, has defended the agency’s cuts to climate change research and criticised the media for inaccurate reporting. In a release posted to the CSIRO website titled “Correcting the public record on changes at CSIRO”, Marshall took issue with reports about the proportion of staff in the oceans and atmosphere unit that would be cut and sought to calm concerns about the survival of particular research programs.

Australia to be ‘isolated’ from global research after CSIRO climate cuts: WMO
International criticism of the CSIRO’s planned deep cuts to its climate monitoring programs has intensified with the World Meteorological Organisation blasting the move as a “backward” step that would see Australia isolated.
See also: CSIRO is poised to slash climate research jobs – experts react

Climate change has not been answered for farmers: we need more information, not less (Opinion)
AUSTRALIA – Perversely, I’m pleased CSIRO chief Larry Marshall is lying in bed worrying about how to mitigate the effects of climate change. I’m only glad he’s not a farmer like me, because I doubt he’d cope. Standing in the paddocks of my Gippsland dairy farm, I guess I have an advantage over Marshall because it’s here that the rubber of climate change adaptation hits the road.

CSIRO cuts amount to ‘real crisis’ in environmental science, scientists say
CSIRO scientists say deep staffing cuts facing key divisions constitute “a real crisis for all environmental science” in the organisation, amid mounting international criticism. Scientists in units likely to take the brunt of the 100 full-time positions to go with the Land and Water division held a video conference on Tuesday to hear which sections would be hardest hit.

Politics and Society

Government hypocrisy overshadows CEFC community housing announcement
Despite cutting emissions while turning a profit, and attracting billions in private sector investment, a Senate Estimates Committee hearing has confirmed it is still government policy to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The news came as the CEFC announced a landmark $250 million program to boost the energy efficiency of Australia’s community housing stock.
See also: Coalition restates wish to axe CEFC, then unveils its largest program

Get Active month – Mike Murphy, Managing Director of Kokako, on his love for cycling
NEW ZEALAND – This Get Active month we’re interviewing some of our members to talk about why they love getting active and hopping on their bikes. This week, Kokako’s Managing Director Mike Murphy talks about cycling to work.

Built Environment

20 Martin Place shows how old buildings can reach sustainability highs
AUSTRALIA – The 6 Star Green Star As Built v3 rating achieved by Built for its redevelopment of an outdated 1970s building at 20 Martin Place is partly the result of a detailed materials lifecycle assessment that demonstrated keeping the pre-existing building’s steel structural frame would save 1291 tonnes of CO2. The project has also achieved a 5 Star Green Star Design and is contracted to achieve a five star NABERS rating.

CEFC in landmark program to boost community housing efficiency
The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has unveiled a landmark $250 million program to create 1000 new energy efficient community housing developments, and to increase the efficiency of existing stock. And according to CEFC chief executive Oliver Yates it is a program that should be expanded to sectors such as aged care, hospitals and schools

Food Systems

Salmonella in your salad: the cost of convenience?
Processed foods are a staple of the modern Western, time-poor diet, but are also blamed for increasing obesity rates and childhood allergies. By contrast, prepackaged salads are appealing as they are considered healthy and natural. But the recent outbreak highlights that raw agricultural products – when simply washed and marketed in bags – aren’t always as good as we may think.


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.