Sustainable Development News

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

Donald Trump wins US election: scholars from around the world react
Donald J Trump has declared victory in the US presidential election. The candidate took the stage in New York just before 3am local time to announce that his rival, Hillary Clinton, had called him to concede the race. “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer,” the president-elect told a packed room of supporters at the Hilton hotel. “We will get along with all nations willing to get along with us,” he added.  What does this stunning turnaround mean for the rest of the world? The Conversation Global asked a panel of international scholars to reflect on Trump’s election and assess its significance for their region.


Climate Change and Energy

Paris climate deal thrown into uncertainty by US election result | The Guardian
Just days after the historic Paris agreement officially came into force, climate denier Donald Trump’s victory has thrown the global deal into uncertainty and raised fears that the US will reverse the ambitious environmental course charted under Barack Obama.

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Keeping warming below 1.5? is possible – but we can’t rely on removing carbon from the atmosphere
One of the key goals of the [Paris] agreement is to limit global warming to well below 2℃, and aim to limit warming to 1.5℃. With global greenhouse gas emissions still rising, this is a daunting task. Numerous models, including recent research, suggest we will not be able to achieve this without removing large amounts of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere later this century (known as “negative emissions”).  But scientists are becoming increasingly sceptical of the concept, as it may create more problems than it solves, or fail to deliver. Instead, we need to ramp up action before 2020, before even the earliest targets of the Paris Agreement.

Government unveils increased support for renewables, commits to coal phase out
The UK Government has reinforced its commitment to upgrade the UK’s energy infrastructure, outlining plans to provide £290m support for renewable energy projects and phase out unabated coal power generation by 2025.

Australia’s coal-fired power stations ‘will need to shut at rate of one a year’, hearing told
Coal-fired power stations in Australia will need to shut at the rate of about one a year between now and the mid-2030s for the country to meet the commitments made in Paris, a Senate hearing has been told. Witnesses also told the hearing that since Australia’s coal-fired power stations are now very old – mostly built in the 1970s and 80s – they would be shutting in the coming decades regardless of climate policy, further highlighting the need for a transition plan.

Cloud-tracking cameras to tackle dips in solar power output
A new way to tackle the much-maligned unpredictability of solar energy is being deployed at a solar farm opening today in Western Australia – cloud-tracking cameras. The 1MW solar farm at Karratha airport, made possible by a $2.3m grant from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (Arena), has been fitted with state-of-the-art CloudCAM cloud-tracking technology by Fulcrum3D – a technology also backed by a separate $545,000 Arena grant.

Environment and Biodiversity

Should genetically modified organisms be part of our conservation efforts?
The biodiversity of life on earth is globally recognised as valuable and in need of protection. This includes not just wild biodiversity but also the biodiversity of agricultural crop plants that humans have developed over thousands of years.  But what about the synthetic forms of biodiversity we are now developing through biotechnologies? Does anyone care about this synbiodiversity? It’s a question I was compelled to ask while conducting research into the Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV).

Seabirds eat floating plastic debris because it smells like food, study finds
Seabirds are enticed into eating plastic debris because it smells like their food, according to scientists. The study found that drifting plastic waste accumulates algae and gives off a smell very similar to the krill that many marine birds feed on. The findings could explain why certain birds – including albatrosses and shearwaters – which rely on their sense of smell for hunting, are particularly vulnerable to swallowing plastic.

AI experts build ‘neural network’ to help researchers search for dugongs
Dugong expert Dr Amanda Hodgson estimates she has stared at more than 30,000 photographs of blue water. “You can go mad doing that I think,” she said.  “It’s really taxing on your eyes and it’s hard to maintain concentration. The researcher from WA’s Murdoch University has been scanning pictures captured by aerial drones in a search for dugongs, to work out their population, size and location. Globally dugongs are classed as “vulnerable to extinction” and are found in waters off the northern half of Australia.

Photo: Dugongs, also called sea cows, are classed as vulnerable to extinction. (Supplied: Dr Amanda Hodgson)

Photo: Dugongs, also called sea cows, are classed as vulnerable to extinction. (Supplied: Dr Amanda Hodgson)

We’ve learned a lot about heatwaves, but we’re still just warming up
Australia is no stranger to heatwaves. Each summer, large areas of the continent fry under intense heat for days on end, causing power outages, public transport delays, and severe impacts to human health. The estimated impact on our workforce alone is US$6.2 billon per year. Heatwaves are also Australia’s deadliest natural hazard, accounting for well over half of all natural disaster-related deaths. Along with our colleagues, we have taken a close look at what we know and don’t know about heatwaves in Australia, as part of a series of reviews produced by the Australian Energy and Waster Exchange initiative.

ECan says swimming sites have improved, but councillor questions transparency
NEW ZEALAND – Three Canterbury water holes are swimmable for the first time in years, but a third of the region’s most popular spots remain too polluted for the public to enjoy. New Environment Canterbury (ECan) data for 2015-16 shows freshwater quality has improved at 12 of the 52 swimming sites monitored by the regional council. But a newly-elected ECan councillor has questioned the transparency of the organisation’s freshwater quality grading system.

Economy and Business

An open letter to the GreenBiz community
Like so many of you, I awoke this morning hoping against hope that last night had been merely a horrible dream. It wasn’t, of course. The 2016 election was a gut punch — a stunning and devastating indictment of decency, fairness and inclusion, one that will long reverberate in ways we can’t yet even imagine. It is, in a word, unfathomable. But I also awoke with a conviction: The work that we do in sustainable business has never been more important. And that to get through this, it will be critically important, for both our individual sanity and our collective future, that we stay the course, double down, make every program, project, partnership and product count. That’s my commitment, and that of my GreenBiz colleagues, and I sincerely hope you’ll join us.

Chemical firm fined £3m for toxic vapour cloud that killed worker
A global chemical company has been fined for poor operational practices that killed one of its employees and seriously hurt another when they were overcome by a toxic vapour cloud.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Circular economy focused projects receive €220 million investment
A new investment package of €222.7 million from the EU budget has been set aside to support Europe’s transition a low-carbon future with a particular focus on supporting initiatives that complement the circular economy package. EU Funding is spurring additional circular economy investments, which brings the total funding up until just under €400 million, being invested in 144 projects across 23 EU countries. Announcing the funding, the EU Commission emphasised that relatively simple ideas can create highly profitable businesses with consequential benefits for the environment. From investment into new electric transport, to more effective treatment and re-utilisation of wastewater, the areas being financed are quite diverse.

Politics and Society

‘A man schooled in the Amazon:’ Q&A with director of new feature film about the fight to save the rainforest
Carter is the founder of Aliança da Terra (Land Alliance), a Brazilian non-profit organization that works directly with ranchers in the Amazon to reduce the environmental and social impact of their operations. Wortman, who previously won an Emmy for his documentary Nefertiti Resurrected, intends to cast “real life characters,” such as John Carter himself, alongside professional actors in order to tell the true story of “Those fighting to save [the Amazon] and those fighting to take it.” As much as it’s a Western and a love story, Wortman says the film is “a snapshot of what is going on in Brazil right now, which is the first wave that comes through. That’s why it’s called Frontier.”

Built Environment

UNEP backs Passivhaus to help meet climate targets
As the latest round of global climate talks begins, the UN Environment Programme is calling on nations to ramp up their action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and is explicitly backing the use of the Passivhaus Standard to reduce emissions from buildings.

Young renters are in the dark about water
An unfortunate knock-on effect of the increasing number of Australians renting is a decrease in the level of understanding about water being a precious resource to be used wisely. About two million Australian households now rent their home, a figure that has almost doubled in the past 30 years. The issue is that water is not metered per apartment, unlike energy. It is calculated per household and if that household happens to be a block of flats, your usage is just not visible.


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