Sustainable Development News

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

Healthy food, healthy climate? The dirt on soil and carbon
This excerpt is adapted from Courtney White’s “Grass, Soil, Hope” (May 2014) and is printed with permission from Chelsea Green Publishing.

It must have looked silly. Twelve of us were hunched over in a corn field under a blazing July sun, a few miles north of Emporia, Kansas, swishing butterfly nets among the corn stalks like deranged collectors chasing a rare breed of insect — deranged because it was a record-breaking 105 degrees. The federal government announced two days before I arrived that the Midwest was in the grip of the worst drought since 1956. Legions of farmers had begun plowing under or chopping up their stunted corn and soybean crops, already writing off the year as a complete failure. There we were, however, swishing our nets back and forth 50 times in a good-looking corn field owned and farmed by Gail Fuller, with nothing between us and the blazing sun except our determination to follow instructions and find spiders. We found lots of spiders.

Energy and Climate Change

Melting ice sheets changing the way the Earth wobbles on its axis, says Nasa
Global warming is changing the way the Earth wobbles on its polar axis, a new Nasa study has found. Melting ice sheets, especially in Greenland, are changing the distribution of weight on Earth. And that has caused both the North Pole and the wobble, which is called polar motion, to change course, according to a study published on Friday in the journal Science Advances.

World Bank Plans To Aid Deployment Of 30 GW In Developing Countries By 2020
The World Bank Group has announced this week that it intends to help developing countries add 30 GW of renewable energy by 2020. Announced on Thursday, the World Bank Group has revealed its new Climate Change Action Plan, in which it intends to help developing countries around the world add 30 GW of renewable energy capacity, in addition to developing early warning systems for 100 million people, and developing climate-smart agriculture investment plans for at least 40 countries.
See also: World Bank to spend 28% of investments on climate change projects

Renewable Generation Increased By 152 GW In 2015, According To IRENA
New data released by the International Renewable Energy Agency has shown global renewable energy generation capacity increased by 152 GW in 2015, up 8.3%. According to Renewable Capacity Statistics 2016, released this week by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), global renewable energy capacity had reached 1,985 GW. Leading the way was hydro, which according to IRENA’s definitions, includes large-hydro, or hydro plants greater than 10 MW in size, which are often removed from renewable energy figures.

US Army Will Help Air Force Meet Huge Solar Energy Goal
A few years ago, the US Department of the Army figured out how to rev up its access to utility scale solar without running afoul of the usual anti-solar suspects, and now the Army will apply its expertise to give the Air Force a leg up. The two branches of the armed services have just signed an agreement that will enable the Air Force to accelerate toward its goal of 25 percent clean energy by 2025, by tapping into the Army’s experience with private sector financing for onsite solar installations.

UK solar power installations plummet after government cuts
The amount of household solar power capacity installed in the past two months has plummeted by three quarters following the government’s cuts to subsidies, according to new figures. A fall in solar power was expected following a 65% reduction in government incentives paid to householders, but the size of the drop-off will dismay green campaigners who want take up on clean energy sources to accelerate.

Paris climate deal to be signed by over 130 countries at UN ceremony
A record number of more than 130 countries will sign the landmark agreement to tackle climate change at a ceremony at UN headquarters on 22 April, the United Nations said on Thursday. Secretary general Ban Ki-moon is hosting the signing ceremony on the first day that the agreement reached in Paris in December opens for signature.

Environment and Biodiversity

Cataloguing The World’s Disappearing Places In Stunning, 360-Degree Video
If you’ve never been to Shepherd Glacier, you’ll never be able to go. In the mid-1960s, the glacier sprawled over 250,000 square meters; by 2010, the ice was basically gone and the rock was bare. It’s one of at least 125 glaciers in Glacier National Park in Montana that no longer exist. The park’s remaining two dozen glaciers may be gone in about 15 years. A new project called Catalog.Earth hopes to capture places like the glaciers before they disappear, in 360 video that will be shared freely online.

Life-giving nutrient becomes a deadly pollutant
Coastal dead zones, global warming, excess algae blooms, acid rain, ocean acidification, smog, impaired drinking water quality, an expanding ozone hole and biodiversity loss. Seemingly diverse problems, but a common thread connects them: human disruption of how a single chemical element, nitrogen, interacts with the environment.

How coastal cities can learn resilience tactics from nature
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges the world has ever faced. Flooding, storm surge, and sea level rise are serious threats to natural resources, infrastructure, and human communities in coastal areas.  In effort to adapt to these changing conditions, planners and policymakers should consider nature’s strategies when developing coastal resiliency plans to protect communities from increasing coastal erosion and flooding due to rising sea levels.

The greenhouse that acts like a beetle and other inventions inspired by nature
When Brent Constantz, CEO of carbon capture company Blue Planet, was looking for a way to process carbon dioxide emissions, he found inspiration in nature… Tapping Into Nature, a recent report from environmental consultancy Terrapin Bright Green, explores several companies that are imitating nature to address some of humanity’s most dire problems.

Last kakapo egg of the year hatched on Codfish Island
NEW ZEALAND – The last kakapo egg of 2016 has hatched in what has been a record breeding season for the species. Kakapo Zephyr 2 hatched just before 7am on Friday on Codfish Island. Conservation minister Maggie Barry said Zephyr 2 was the 46th chick hatched this year in what has been the most successful breeding season in the 25-year history of the Department of Conservation’s Kakapo Recovery Programme. The coming weeks would be crucial as young kakapo are extremely vulnerable and some may not survive into adulthood, Barry said. Thirty eight of the chicks were alive and well, she said.

Economy and Business

Here’s a way to make carbon markets work better
Carbon markets could play a crucial role in delivering promises made at the Paris climate conference… Carbon markets are already in use in Europe, Korea, seven Chinese provinces and cities, and several US states among other places. More are in the pipeline with China, the world’s largest emitter, planning to start a national market in 2017. Yet most existing markets operate independently of each other. European permits cannot be used in the US, and Korean companies cannot trade emissions with firms in China. This is a missed opportunity. If companies in different markets were able to trade, they could make savings every time the price of permits varied across markets.

Unilever palm oil supplier must suspend all plantation expansion to save reputation
In what is arguably the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s (RSPO) most significant intervention in its 12-year history, the organisation has suspended the certification of one of its founding members, IOI, a Malaysian palm oil company which supplies palm oil to more than 300 companies. This means that IOI and its trading division IOI Loders Croklaan will be temporarily prevented from selling palm oil certified as sustainable.

Heifer International’s Pierre Ferrari on sustaining small farms
If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for life — or so the adage goes. This is the philosophy out of which the poverty and hunger-focused nonprofit Heifer International got its start in the 1940s. Heifer International connects low-income communities in impoverished regions around the globe to individual donors, whose aid comes in the form of livestock and training.

Can ‘pay as you glow’ solve Malawi’s power crisis?
Two months ago, Bill Gates reminded us of a stunning bit of information.  The amount of electricity per person in sub-Saharan Africa is lower today (excluding South Africa) than it was 30 years ago. A rapidly rising population and the slow rate of connection means the “electricity deficit” continues to grow… Brave Mhonie certainly believes that cheap, solar lights are perhaps the only way forward for the rural poor. Brave is the national sales co-ordinator for SolarAid, a charity which sells solar-powered lights that also charge mobile phones.

Cape York’s ecosystems are worth billions of dollars: time to share the wealth
Australia’s Cape York is one of the world’s most outstanding natural areas, a status recognised by the United Nations since the 1980s. Since then, there have been regular political tussles to recognise these values… Today, the area is dominated by mining and grazing, often in ways that don’t benefit local communities. Is this the best use of the land? One way to answer this question is to look at the economic benefits of conserving the area. In a recently published paper, we estimated the value of Cape York’s ecosystems at between A$130 billion and A$512 billion per year. This is comparable to Queensland’s entire economy at A$295 billion per year.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Heineken report on circular economy progress for first time in sustainability report
A new sustainability report for 2015 from Dutch brewer Heineken includes its progress on achieving the circular economy. This is the first time that the company has included this information in its sustainability report. In the circular economy section, it shows that Heineken recycled 94% of its residual products including brewers’ grains, surplus yeast, packaging materials and wastewater residue.

Trending: Levi Strauss, MIT Partnerships Advancing Textile Innovations
Last week, Levi’s announced a new partnership with Italian upcyled fiber supplier Aquafil — maker of ECONYL®, a nylon made from waste materials such as used carpeting, discarded fishing nets and other marine plastics — to create a new men’s collection incorporating ECONYL, starting with Levi’s 522 men’s tapered pant… Meanwhile, an independent, public-private consortium led by MIT is poised to take textile innovation to a whole new level, thanks to an award of $317 million toward the advancement of next-generation fabrics.

Australia falling behind third world on global map of plastic bag bans
Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda and Somalia all have one up on Australia. Along with Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, these third world countries have taken a stand on the harmful environmental impacts of single use plastic bags and banned them completely. In Australia, plastic bag bans exist in South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the ACT, while NSW, Queensland and Victoria remain in a deadlock over the issue, committed to the cause, but not yet ready to act.

Politics and Society

CSIRO must ensure climate science is maintained
The world, including Australia, has agreed that climate change is an important and pressing issue, that every nation has to contribute to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and that we will all have to adapt to a changing climate. Successful and cost-effective mitigation and adaptation requires ongoing (and indeed strengthened) climate science. This is specifically recognised in the Paris climate agreement. Climate scientists don’t just do science for its own sake. Climate science is critical to mitigating climate change, and adapting to it. I have previously written on the many questions scientists still need to answer to deal with climate change.

If the CSIRO won’t do research for the public good, who will? (Opinion)
Scientists in Australia’s universities and research organisations are responsible for ground-breaking inventions such as the world’s first effective influenza drugs; smart mathematics that enabled superfast Wi-Fi and the bionic ear. These have also been resounding commercial successes, and show that local discoveries can be profitable. Government policy emphasises the importance of commercially focused research and rightly encourages researchers to fully capitalise on their discoveries. But, in our focus on innovation geared towards commercialisation, have we overlooked the tremendous value to our community of research done in the public interest?

What’s going on inside the CSIRO and is Larry Marshall to blame?
It was supposed to be a public relations exercise. Instead, the new boss of Australia’s national science agency threw a bucket of petrol over a bonfire. Larry Marshall – the former venture capitalist turned chief executive of the CSIRO – had ignited the blaze a week earlier with a rambling email to staff that set out his vision for the century-old organisation. As plans go, it was a bold one: he would run the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation – with its 5000 employees and tradition of research in the national interest – like a start-up company. What did this mean? Scientists should be less afraid of failure, and dare to try new things. And they needed to focus on work that could be sold.

Kids clear key hurdle in their federal climate change lawsuit
USA – Should kids be able to sue for a safe climate? A federal judge just said yes. Last month, in Eugene, Ore., a district court heard 21 youth plaintiffs’ arguments as to why their case should proceed to trial. The kids allege that by failing to act on climate change, the U.S. government — including the president and a handful of federal agencies — have violated several of their constitutional rights.

WA takes lead and tells utility to close down fossil fuel generation
The conservative West Australian state government has taken the lead over the rest of the country and instructed its state-owned utility to shut down 380MW of fossil fuel capacity in the next two years. It seems certain that much of this will be ageing coal-fired generation. The decision was announced by WA energy minister and treasurer Mike Nahan as he deals with the extraordinary excesses and perverse market incentives that have created a budgetary nightmare for the state – with the annual cost of electricity delivery more than $500 million more than the state-owned utilities can recoup from users.

Suburbanising the centre: the Baird government’s anti-urban agenda for Sydney
The New South Wales government is imposing an anti-urban legislative and development agenda on Sydney. This agenda conceptualises Sydney as centre – a privileged social, cultural and geographic core – and elsewhere… This agenda limits the capacity of Sydneysiders to engage with their city in diverse, improvised or alternative ways. This is despite government claims that it addresses imbalances and inequities between the centre and the rest of the city in terms of spatial advantage, job opportunities, public spending and services.

Indigenous rangers lobby for more positions amid threat of feral animals, weeds
Indigenous rangers across Australia have launched a national campaign urging the Federal Government to double its funding and boost job numbers. The Indigenous Ranger program and Indigenous Protected Areas program have provided jobs for more than 2,000 Aboriginal Australians. But rangers believe that number needs to more than double to ensure lands are protected from a growing number of feral animals and weeds.

Funding cuts to DOC huts and tracks threaten clean green image
Tourists are damaging vegetation and leaving toilet paper scattered around illegal campsites on New Zealand’s pristine walks. But critics said a $12.5 million Department of Conservation restructure in September 2013 may be contributing to the problem because tracks and huts were not being maintained. Forest and Bird campaigns and advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said the restructure had been “a disaster”. He said DOC had also put a strong focus on getting more volunteers to do the work, and more corporate sponsors to pay for it.

Food Systems

The worm has turned: how British insect farms could spawn a food revolution
From behind the large wooden door of a heavily insulated room in the corner of an outbuilding comes the distinctive rhythmic chirping of crickets. The mating call, more usually heard in the Mediterranean than in the Pennines, reveals the location of the UK’s first edible-insect farm. Inside the room, the temperature jumps noticeably. Some 70 large plastic storage containers are lined up on wooden shelves, three high to the ceiling, each containing house crickets (Acheta domesticus).

Kitchen Science: everything you eat is made of chemicals
The chemicals in our diet are often categorised into four broad categories: carbohydrates, proteins, fats and lipids, and everything else. This final group has no defining characteristics but includes vitamins, minerals, pharmaceuticals and the hundreds of trace chemicals each of us consume everyday. Of course, there are toxic and harmful chemicals, but just as many are completely fine for human consumption. So here’s a handy guide to the chemicals in your kitchen, and what they mean for your health.


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