Sustainable Development News


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

Hunting, fishing and farming remain the biggest threats to wildlife
History might judge the Paris climate agreement to be a watershed for all humanity. If nations succeed in halting runaway climate change, this will have enormous positive implications for life on Earth. Yet as the world applauds a momentous shift toward carbon neutrality and hope for species threatened by climate change, we can’t ignore the even bigger threats to the world’s wildlife and ecosystems. Climate change threatens 19% of globally threatened and near-threatened species – including Australia’s critically endangered mountain pygmy possum and the southern corroboree frog. It’s a serious conservation issue. Yet our new study, published in Nature, shows that by far the largest current hazards to biodiversity are overexploitation and agriculture.

Energy and Climate Change 

Climate scientists make a bold prediction about sea level rise
One of the great things about science is that it allows you to make predictions. Three top climate scientists just made a very bold prediction regarding sea level rise; we should know in a few years if they are correct.

Why utilities have little incentive to plug leaking natural gas
The Aliso Canyon leak in California earlier this year focused public attention on methane emissions from the oil and gas industry. Methane is the primary component of natural gas, and it is a potent contributor to climate change. In less than a year, the Aliso Canyon facility leaked methane equal to about four million metric tons of CO2, the greenhouse gas equivalent of driving over 800,000 cars in a year.

Energy storage innovation in Switzerland: a potential to compensate renewable energy fluctuations
For the first time, a pilot project called Alacaes is developing a new system that stores electricity in the form of compressed air in the Swiss Alps, with the support of the Swiss Energy Ministry… Giw Zanganeh, a young engineering graduate of the Federal Technology Institute ETH Zurich, Switzerland, is working on a way of storing energy involving compressed air. “Excess electricity is used to power a compressor, which pumps air into the cavern. When needed, the direction of the flow is reversed to convert the compressed air back to electricity using turbines.” Zanganeh commented.

Climate targets to affect power reliability
South Australia, NSW and Victoria could be hit with power blackouts over the next decade if coal-fired generation was removed to meet Australia’s new climate targets, warns the national energy forecaster. A report by the Australian Energy Market Operator to be released on Thursday found if 1360 megawatts of coal-fired generation was removed from the National Electricity Market to meet carbon reduction targets it would have major ramifications for power reliability, despite the uptake of renewable energy.

World’s largest virtual power plant: What’s in it for consumers?
Last week, AGL Energy announced exciting new plans to develop what it describes as “the world’s largest battery storage ‘virtual power plant” in South Australia… But what’s in it for the consumer? According to AGL’s dedicated website, households participating in the project will be able to use more of the energy produced by their solar systems, thus further reducing their energy bills, and will also be able to “enjoy” battery storage “for a fraction of its usual price.”

Are you making the most of your rooftop solar? Not likely
So you’re one of the more than 1.5 million Australian households and small businesses to have installed rooftop solar. Well done! But are your solar panels working to their full potential? And if they weren’t, would you even know? According to a recent report released by Sydney-based group Solar Analytics, the answer – on both counts – is ‘probably not’.

Environment and Biodiversity 

Trees share carbon: new discovery may be key to saving trees in a warming world
A new discovery has forced ecologists to shift how they think about forest systems from hotbeds of competition to cooperative, interdependent structures. A five-year experiment, the first of its kind, shows that tall healthy trees share resources, specifically carbon, with trees of different species. This carbon-trading is driven by collaborative underground networks of mycorrhizal fungi which exist in almost all of the world’s forests. Researchers believe this resource sharing may play a significant role in the survival of forests as they increasingly come under stress from climate change.

Using Big Data to combat the illegal timber trade in Brazil
It has been estimated that as much as 50 percent of tropical timber still comes from illegal sources. In response, international efforts to combat the illegal timber trade have intensified over the past decade and a half, with legislation like the U.S. Lacey Act, the EU Timber Regulation (EUTR), and amendments to Australia’s Illegal Logging Prohibition Act (ILPA) making the trade in illegal timber a punishable offense.

Shipping noise impairs ability of humpback whales to forage, study shows
Increased shipping noise is disrupting the foraging behaviour of humpback whales in the North Atlantic, according to a new study. Scientists in the US and UK said their findings could impact upon the numbers of humpback whales in the long term. Many whales are found in coastal areas with high levels of shipping traffic, which often results in frequent fatalities from collisions.

Asia’s Lions Live in One Last Place on Earth—and They’re Thriving
While Asiatic big cats are rare, their spiritual importance helped inspire their human neighbors to keep them safe… The Asiatic lion once roamed vast swaths of the Middle East and Asia, but indiscriminate hunting and killing to protect livestock led to their mass slaughter. By the late 1800s, as few as 10 of the animals remained on Earth. Their last refuge became western India’s Gir National Park, a protected area where the number of these endangered animals is now on an upward trend.

The Blob That Cooked the Pacific
The first fin whale appeared in Marmot Bay, where the sea curls a crooked finger around Alaska’s Kodiak Island. A biologist spied the calf drifting on its side, as if at play. Seawater flushed in and out of its open jaws. Spray washed over its slack pink tongue. Death, even the gruesome kind, is usually too familiar to spark alarm in the wild north. But late the next morning, the start of Memorial Day weekend, passengers aboard the ferry Kennicott spotted another whale bobbing nearby. Her blubber was thick. She looked healthy. But she was dead too.

Wild New Caledonian crows possess tool-craft talent
Scientists have confirmed that a species of wild crow from New Caledonia in the South Pacific can craft tools. The birds were observed bending twigs into hooks to extract food hidden in wooden logs. Previously this skill had been seen in captive birds kept in laboratories.
  The study, published in the journal Open Science, suggests that this talent is part of the birds’ natural behaviour. 

Native falcon appears to be separated into North and South Island subspecies
NEW ZEALAND – The native falcon karearea appears to be separated into two subspecies – one in the North Island and the other in the South, new research suggests. “We found that North Island karearea were significantly smaller than South Island karearea, and despite some variance that is to be expected from natural variation and measurement error, the abrupt difference in size was striking,” the researchers said. There was an association between low producing grassland and larger karearea, and indigenous forest and smaller karearea.


The lake that left town: why is this California community drying up?
One of the largest natural lakes in the state, Eagle Lake is a shock of blue amid a tawny, isolated upland. But it has fallen around 15ft since 1999, a decline thought to have been exacerbated by climate change. The main lakeside community of Spalding, a 30-minute drive north of the marina, is dotted with “for sale” signs, and its tidy streets are empty. The waterfront is now a meadow, and the lake has receded to a thin strip in the distance, like an alluring mirage.

Economy and Business 

California cap-and-trade: A booming success in disguise
Recent reports on California’s cap-and-trade program could mislead observers to conclude the system is “collapsing” and undergoing a “meltdown.” But hyperbole isn’t reality, and quite the contrary, the state’s climate policy is succeeding — the most recent data show California is just 3 percent above its 2020 goal of reducing emissions to 1990 levels as required by AB 32. Meeting California’s 2020 greenhouse gas emissions goal is turning out to be easier and cheaper than expected.

Waste and the Circular Economy 

8 companies to watch in the circular economy
By now, most everyone roaming the realm of corporate sustainability has heard the term “circular economy” — maybe a few more times than they’d care to recall. But it’s much more than just another buzzword, as the circular economy has the potential to solve the world’s mounting waste problem by doing away with the very concept of waste altogether.

Pressure mounts on retailers to reform throwaway clothing culture
Fast-growing, fast-fashion retailer H&M, which has more than 4,000 stores in 62 countries, sold $24.5bn worth of T-shirts, pants, jackets, and dresses last year. It also took 12,000 tons of clothes back. In a glossy, celebrity-studded video, H&M says: “There are no rules in fashion but one: Recycle your clothes.”

We need a global treaty on plastics. Here’s what it should look like.
Why has plastics pollution been so intransigent from a global governance perspective? One reason is the inevitable difficulty that comes with complex policy problems, where many actors have a stake in the game and no clear-cut remedy exists. Still, I believe that a more hands-on approach can at least pave the way toward more durable solutions. However, for it to do so we must rethink current efforts to shape multilateral actions, which have mostly taken place with a focus on oceans. After all, plastic ends up in the oceans, but it doesn’t start there. Oceans-based agreements just don’t have what it takes to tackle the main sources of plastic pollution. It is time to step up the game by negotiating a global treaty aimed at reducing plastic pollution that goes beyond marine pollution and tackles the roots of the problem.

Politics and Society 

Industry, green groups to drive nature policy
NEW ZEALAND – Seating environmental and industry groups at the same table is hoped to bolster new national policy on safeguarding nature on private land. Environment Minister Nick Smith today announced that a new collaborative forum would sit at the heart of development of a new National Policy Statement (NPS) for biodiversity. The policy roadmap is one of the latest being advanced by the Government under the Resource Management Act (RMA).

Built Environment 

Tackling cities’ hidden climate footprint
When it comes to climate change, a city’s significance stretches past its skyline. Cities, of course, are a source of abundant greenhouse gas emissions from electricity, transportation, construction and more. But that look alone is too narrow, according to Can a City Be Sustainable?, the 2016 installment of the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World series. In the report Tom Prugh, senior researcher at Worldwatch, contends that a full account of urban greenhouse gas emissions is incomplete without considering two uniquely urban burdens borne beyond municipal boundaries: changes in land use as cities expand and changes in people’s diets as cities grow.

Building materials that tap into nature’s elegant, and harmless, designs
A study and report titled “Buildings and Climate Change,” completed by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), revealed (PDF) “over 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions take place during the operational phase of buildings, when energy is used for heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, appliances, and other applications.” … How are we going to design buildings with harmless materials, both for our planet and the people occupying them? What can we use in our buildings to make sure their annual energy needs are kept to a bare minimum?

Food Systems 

Dairy groups blast methane reductions: ‘Cows expel gas so they don’t explode’
California’s attempt to curb emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is facing vocal opposition from a dairy industry that fears government meddling in the flatulence of its cows. The California Air Resources Board (ARB) has set a goal of slashing methane emissions by 40% by 2030, from 2013 levels, and has targeted the belching and farting – known as “enteric fermentation” – of California’s 5.5 million beef and dairy cows, as well as the manure they create.


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