Sustainable Development News

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

Palm oil giant’s impact in Indonesia worse than reported, says Greenpeace
One of the world’s largest producers of palm oil has drained and planted on areas of peatland supposed to be protected by Indonesian law, claims a new report from Greenpeace, with levels of damage potentially worse than previously reported. The NGO says satellite images of Ketapang, west Kalimantan show drainage canals covering an area of peatland that the Malaysia-based company IOI had marked for restoration in a sustainability commitment in 2014.

Energy and Climate Change

CO2 turned into stone in Iceland in climate change breakthrough
Carbon dioxide has been pumped underground and turned rapidly into stone, demonstrating a radical new way to tackle climate change.  The unique project promises a cheaper and more secure way of burying CO2 from fossil fuel burning underground, where it cannot warm the planet. Such carbon capture and storage (CCS) is thought to be essential to halting global warming, but existing projects store the CO2 as a gas and concerns about costs and potential leakage have halted some plans.


Energy is one of the largest consumers of water in a drought-threatened world
With a quarter of the world’s human population already living in regions that suffer from severe water scarcity for at least six months of the year, it is perhaps not surprising that the World Economic Forum recently rated water crises as the largest global risk in terms of potential impacts over the next decade. Electricity generation is a significant consumer of water: it consumes more than five times as much water globally as domestic uses (drinking, preparing food, bathing, washing clothes and dishes, flushing toilets and the rest) and more than five times as much water globally as industrial production.

Recent Deluge in France Boosted By Warming
Relentless rains falling across Europe over the last week caused the waters of the Seine to burst their banks in the heart of Paris and sent flash floods roaring through towns in southern Germany, crushing cars and houses in their path. As the storms clear out and the deadly floodwaters ebb, a team of scientists has analyzed whether such deluges have become more common in these areas as the Earth has warmed. While they found that such extreme rains are at least 40 percent — and as much as 90 percent — more likely in the areas of France they studied, the results were inconclusive for Germany. Such a mixed bag isn’t uncommon in the relatively young science of extreme event attribution, as results can be limited by the length of weather observations or the capabilities of climate models. But such efforts are useful in communicating the changing risks of extreme weather to the public, say the scientists, who are working with Climate Central’s World Weather Attribution program.

A man looks at the damage caused by the floods in the town of Braunsbach in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany, on May 30, 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

A man looks at the damage caused by the floods in the town of Braunsbach in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany, on May 30, 2016. Credit: REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Victoria wants to lead on climate with zero emissions commitment
AUSTRALIA – Victoria says it will “lead the nation” on climate change, announcing a goal to become net zero by 2050, in good news for the built environment, but also putting it in direct competition with neighbouring South Australia and the ACT. The move was supported by the Energy Efficiency Council, environment groups and the Property Council, which called for bipartisan commitment to “this important goal”. The net zero target for Victoria will be enshrined in legislation while climate change will be made a mandatory component of government decision-making, in order to work to Australia’s Paris Agreement pledge of keeping warming well below 2°C. No state-wide emissions trading scheme or carbon tax will be considered.
See also: Victoria to stop pumping out carbon dioxide by 2050, Premier Daniel Andrews promises

Environment and Biodiversity

Could this new mapping toolkit solve the palm oil transparency challenge?
With rising transparency issues leading to supplier contracts being scrapped and green groups piling on the pressure to tackle the situation, a new World Resources Institute (WRI)-backed initiative could finally allow companies to gauge deforestation risks by evaluating satellite surveillance of global palm oil mills.

Saving forests is “our challenge and opportunity”: Paula Caballero, World Bank
Forests are “critical to dealing with the climate change problem” and they represent an enormous opportunity for the private sector, says Paula Caballero, Senior Director of the Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice, World Bank, in an exclusive Climate TV interview. It is estimated that at least 12% of global man-made emissions come from deforestation. However, when taking into account the complete land use change from agricultural forestry, this number doubles to at least 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions. In many developing countries, this number is far higher, remarks Paula Caballero, speaking to The Climate Group at COP21: “In Latin America, which has great forest wealth and natural resources biodiversity, it’s up to 49% of emissions [that] can be attributed to deforestation and land use change.”

Nasa to map coral reefs from the air to show impact of climate change
Coral reefs have almost always been studied up close, by scientists in the water looking at small portions of larger reefs to gather data and knowledge about the larger ecosystems. But Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is taking a step back and getting a wider view, from about 23,000 ft above. Nasa and top scientists from around the world are launching a three-year campaign on Thursday to gather new data on coral reefs like never before.

Is Brazil’s threatened bird situation Latin America’s future?
We are told that you can neatly divide the countries of the world into developed nations, developing nations, and the BRICS nations — the countries that are on the cusp of becoming developed, considered to be Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Brazil is the nation in the new world tropics closest to joining the developed club. As such, Brazil is the canary in the coal mine for the neotropics, indicating the potential future if developing countries follow the globally inherited pathway to success. Unfortunately, the canary is wobbly on its perch.

Citizen science: large brown seaweeds
Marine scientists are calling on the public to help them get a better idea of the distribution of large brown seaweeds along New Zealand’s coast. Brown seaweeds, including the familiar bull and bladder kelps and Neptune’s necklace, are an important part of the coastal ecosystem. They provide shelter for other species and buffer the coast from waves and erosion. But little is known about their distribution, and NIWA scientists have launched a NatureWatch citizen science project to encourage people to post images and GPS location data for their local beaches.

Economy and Business

Communities lead the way in rainforest conservation in Guatemala
One of the best ways to protect the rainforest, it turns out, is to hand its management over to communities whose livelihoods depend on it. Guatemalan communities have been up to the task, engaging in the carefully regulated extraction of timber and plants while protecting their sections of the Maya Biosphere Reserve at the same time. However, it remains unclear whether or not the innovative conservation model will be around much longer.

Coal was king of the Industrial Revolution, but not always the path to a modern economy
As the world moves to combat climate change, it’s increasingly doubtful that coal will continue to be a viable energy source, because of its high greenhouse gas emissions. But coal played a vital role in the Industrial Revolution and continues to fuel some of the world’s largest economies.

How purpose can drive your company: 4 charts
It turns out that a sense of meaning, which we’re increasingly coming to know as “purpose,” drives people of all ages. However, twentysomethings are more direct in demanding purpose in a career, says PwC in a report today:  “They are raising the expectations on business to deliver solutions to important societal and environmental problems through their offerings, and the table stakes are only expected to get higher with the entrance of Generation Z into the workforce.”

Hot Button Issues of the Day: Consumer Concerns Driving Behavior, Activism
Nick Aster, founder and publisher of TriplePundit, moderated a panel discussion Tuesday morning about activism and purchasing power… Quindazzi led with how she understood activism today, describing how “activism can be thought about through purchasing power, as people are stepping up to support particular brands by buying their products.” … Quindazzi said she has observed a significant rise in people who want to “make a positive impact with their shopping, while also being part of a movement and connecting with a community.” This, she stated, “represents an opportunity for brands to engage with the aspirational consumer by getting involved in causes that align with their brand purpose.”

Waste and the Circular Economy

Policy landscape report on resource efficiency and circular economy
The European Environment Agency (EEA), based in Copenhagen, is an official body of the European Union whose mission is to gather information and provide guidance with regards to the integration of environmental criteria in economic policies and strategies. Released today, its latest publication titled “More from less” gives a detailed overview of resource efficiency and circular economy legislative apparatus across 32 countries. An important exercise which provides a ‘state of affairs’, key to understanding what building blocks are in place to transition away from a model in which resource consumption is the main revenue-generation mechanism… and what barriers still lie in the way.

How Microbes, Bio-Based Materials Can Help Industry Embrace Sustainability
Bio-based alternatives to plastic and other fossil-based materials can be used for a variety of applications, including construction, manufacturing and apparel, among others. However, many have yet to reach scale, largely due to industry clinging to classic chemistry. “Bio-based materials work, it’s just a matter of economics,” Sheridan said. Our collective understanding of how microbes work is for the first time allowing us to make chemicals in a safer and more environmentally friendly way.

Nestlé, if you care about the environment what’s with your disposable coffee cups?
Nestlé has made it possible to skip the queues and make coffee-to-go in the comfort of your own kitchen. For £4.30 you can buy a box of four disposable coffee cups, pre-filled with a mix of instant coffee and ground coffee sealed under some tin foil.  It’s an invention surely up there with the equally necessary egg cube (because oval eggs are so 2010) and the banana slicer (because knives just don’t cut it anymore.)

These Edible Party Cups Eliminate Waste And Taste Really Delicious
After you finish a cocktail in a new type of glass, you can eat the cup. Loliware, which is made from a base of seaweed and comes in flavors like yuzu citrus or matcha tea, is designed to replace disposable cups at parties that would normally end up in the trash.

Politics and Society

Citizen juries & new democracy: Farrelly, Doyle, Walker, Belgiorno-Nettis, Brokman
With development rampant across major Australian cities, many residents feel like they’ve lost a say in what happens to their communities. Public consultation seems token, and deals appear to be stitched up before concerned citizens can put in their two cents. Communities are frustrated and angry. It’s in this fraught environment that an alternative governance model known as a citizens’ jury is beginning to pop up more frequently as local and state government grapple with how to involve communities in public decision-making.

Lobbying 101: how interest groups influence politicians and the public to get what they want
Over the past 20 years, lobbying activities in Australia have expanded dramatically. Following the United States’ lead, where a radical shift in ideology in the 1970s led to a re-evaluation of the way corporations view their role in society, the notion of corporate “civic duty” has been replaced by a belief that governments and the public are fair game for special interests. Now, lobbying in Australia is a multi-billion dollar industry which employs a sophisticated strategy to win public opinion and political favours for its clients or members.

Can a Detroit crowdfunding movement reverse Rochdale’s decline?
Rochdale can feel unrelenting. Row after row of red-brick houses punctuated by vertigo-inducing towerblocks criss-crossed with canals. The town, surrounded by beautiful hills and moorland, was once prosperous – spinning and weaving much of Britain’s wealth. Now, it is associated with poverty and disadvantage… Jordan Diggle, 21 and a museum assistant at the Pioneers Museum, is one local working to improve the town. Inspired by Soup, a social enterprise initiative originating in the embattled US city of Detroit, he has set up a regular grassroots, micro-granting event in Rochdale. Audience members pay a small fee to come and listen to four-minute pitches from people with ideas to boost the local community.

Niger Basin countries announce $274m climate fund
Nine-member countries of the Niger Basin Authority (NBA) have pledged $274 million to support sustainable development and climate change adaptation projects. The funding will go towards implementing the Programme for the Integrated Development and Adaptation to Climate Change (PIDACC) in the region. The member states of the NBA are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger and Nigeria and they announced the pledge at the end of the Expert Meeting of the Extraordinary Session of the Council of Ministers in Abuja.

Are You Spending Enough Time Outside? (Quiz!)
Spending time outdoors can be a prescription for more than cabin fever. Being surrounded by nature has been proven to improve cognitive function, aid sleep, and increase attention span. Yet the average American spends only 7 percent of the time outdoors. Think you’re suffering from a nature deficiency? Take our quiz to see how much you’re missing out. Your prefrontal cortex will thank you.

Built Environment

Urgent action needed to stop terrifying rise in air pollution, warns OECD
Air pollution is becoming a “terrifying” problem around the globe, one of the world’s leading economic organisations has warned, and will get much worse in the coming decades if urgent steps are not taken to control the pollution. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said on Thursday that pollution of our air from industry, agriculture and transport was set to cause as many as 9 million premature deaths a year around the world in the next four decades, and the economic costs are likely to rise to about $2.6 tn (£1.8tn) a year over the same period.

Fast-tracking innovation in the construction value chain: Maarten De Groote, BPIE
Maarten De Groote, Head of Research at the Buildings Performance Institute Europe (BPIE), makes the case for industrializing deep energy retrofits, a value-add of around €200 billion (US$227 billion) a year which could create up to 2 million construction sector jobs.

Are antibacterial building materials making you unhealthy?
As green design turns its eye to health, architects are looking not only at chemical properties in materials but also at the microbes around us to promote environmental health and sustainability and human health.

A walk in the park: Brisbane’s newest office sets high sustainability standards
AUSTRALIA – DEXUS’s Premium-grade 480 Queen Street office in Brisbane will officially be launched tonight (Thursday) by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, featuring what is believed to be Australia’s first elevated park in an office building. The Grocon-developed and built 6 Star Green Star office, which is also formally registering for WELL Building certification, incorporates a 1400 square metre park on its fourth floor available for community use, as well as a “grove” of trees on its level 32 rooftop. The path up to the park features a 350 square metre glass-tiled rainforest mural by artist Daniel Mellor.

Food Systems

Northland trials farming without palm kernel
NEW ZEALAND – A unique trial comparing high and low feed systems in dairy farming has revealed some surprising results. When looking at the profitability of going back to pasture-only farming versus relying on cropping or imported feed such as palm kernel, the grass-only farm was measured to have the lowest production but the highest profit. Whangarei farm consultant and Northland Dairy Development Trust founder and trustee Kim Robinson said the results reflected what many farmers were saying: That when using imported feed they were busier and produced more but did not seem to be making any more money.

Organic kiwifruit growers surf tide of growing demand
NEW ZEALAND – To organic kiwifruit grower Jeff Roderick, his Te Puke orchard’s top performance comes down to a mix of factors. Perhaps first and foremost it is soil and location. Formerly a dairy farm, the 14-hectare orchard has naturally fertile, free draining volcanic soils with no need for irrigation. Sunshine hours are among the highest in the country, rainfall is plentiful, even the topography does its bit. In winter and spring numerous gullies draw cold air away from elevated orchards, minimising the risk of frosts. But to be achieving an average of 11,000 trays per ha, there must be something else that Roderick has going for him.


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