Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Tilikum, SeaWorld’s Killer Orca, is Dying
I have been anticipating and dreading this announcement for years. This week, SeaWorld warned that Tilikum, SeaWorld’s largest and best-known killer whale, is dying. His health is deteriorating due to a drug-resistant bacterial lung infection. “He has a disease which is chronic and progressive,” an emotional SeaWorld vet explains in a video. “We have not found a cure.” The statement appears to be an effort to prepare the public for Tilikum’s death.

Energy and Climate ChangeCO2 2015 record

CO2 levels make largest recorded annual leap, Noaa data shows
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide last year rose by the biggest margin since records began, according to a US federal science agency. Fossil fuel burning and a strong El Niño weather pattern pushed CO2 levels 3.05 parts per million (ppm) on a year earlier to 402.6 ppm, as measured at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) said on Wednesday.

Scientists want rapid renewables deployment – temps could be rising faster than thought
New climate research has warned that the individual energy needs of a growing population could push global warming to dangerous levels within just four years, highlighting the need to fast-track the global shift to cleaner sources of energy like renewables. The model, developed by researchers from the University of Queensland and Griffith University, predicts the global average temperature could rise by 1.5°C as early as 2020, based on forecasts of population and economic growth combined with rising per capita energy consumption.
See also: Global temperatures could rise 1.5 degrees by 2020, researchers say

Global food production threatens to overwhelm efforts to combat climate change
Each year our terrestrial biosphere absorbs about a quarter of all the carbon dioxide emissions that humans produce. This a very good thing; it helps to moderate the warming produced by human activities such as burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. But in a paper published in Nature today, we show that emissions from other human activities, particularly food production, are overwhelming this cooling effect.

The quest for negative carbon emissions
From the rooftop of Klaus Lackner’s seven-storey building on the Arizona State University campus, photovoltaic panels seem to glisten in every direction. The school claims to have more solar capacity installed than any other university in America – part of a plan to offset the carbon emissions of this institution of more than 80,000 students. But the odd little box Lackner has come to check might someday take things a big step further. If it works on a larger scale, what’s in the box could make the university a negative emitter – more than offsetting the amount of carbon it releases into the air. Lackner’s box is part of a new wave of technology aimed at heading off climate change.

Aviation emissions are rising – and industry solutions are just technological myths
While the airline industry is quick to reassure that technical solutions, such as improved materials, engines and biofuels, and market-based measures can provide a fix, our research has found these to be examples of “technology myths”.

Environment and Biodiversity

Threats to the Great Barrier Reef outgrowing agencies protecting it, leading expert warns
The Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies Professor Terry Hughes has addressed a forum at the World Science Festival in Brisbane. He said when the Great Barrier Reef Marine Party Authority (GBRMPA) was first established “it was in charge of almost everything that went on within the boundaries of a piece of real estate the size of Italy. It [used to] deal with the problems on the ground. Today the problems have outgrown the agency. The boundary of the marine park doesn’t mean much when you’ve got [problems like] terrestrial run-off, the temperature going up due to global warming.”

The Horrendous Way Fish are Captured for Your Aquarium—With Cyanide
They’re in your dentist’s office, in restaurants, hotel resorts, and homes all over the world. The saltwater aquarium, with its bright coral and even brighter fish, brings a piece of the wild into your living room. But do you really know where those saltwater fish come from? A full 98 percent—yes, almost all—species of saltwater fish can’t be bred in captivity. They must instead be taken from ocean reefs. And how is that done? Most of the time, with sodium cyanide.

A fisherman illegally applies cyanide to a coral reef crevice off the island of Palawan, in the Philippines. Photograph by Jurgen Freund, Nature Picture Library, Corbis

A fisherman illegally applies cyanide to a coral reef crevice off the island of Palawan, in the Philippines. Photograph by Jurgen Freund, Nature Picture Library, Corbis

Rhino poaching: Another year, another grim record
The mass slaughter of rhinos has increased for the sixth year in a row, according to grim new figures from international researchers. At least 1,338 of the iconic animals were killed for their horns in Africa last year. This is the greatest loss in a single year since an intense wave of poaching began recently.

Even Snakes Have Friends—One More Reason Not to Slaughter Them
This weekend the town of Sweetwater, Texas, will hold what’s billed as the world’s largest rattlesnake roundup.  In recent months, hundreds of rattlesnakes have been captured, pulled from their dens with hooks or flushed out with gasoline, then stored in barrels. On the big day, they will be tossed in a pit, displayed to a cheering audience, and then slaughtered.  It’s the largest of dozens of roundups held each spring across the southern U.S., events that are roundly condemned by animal advocates for diminishing snake populations, upsetting local ecosystems, and generally encouraging cruelty toward wildlife.

Economy and Business

Have we hit ‘peak stuff’?
Is Britain really using far less food, fuel, metals and materials now than at the turn of the century? Have we reached “peak stuff”? Certainly the UK Office of National Statistics figures for 2000-2013 seem to suggest this is the case. The problem is that these figures don’t take into account the full range of materials that went into the products we import.

Behind the label: can we trust certification to give us fairer products?
The Ecolabel Index currently lists 463 certifications in 199 countries. On the face of it, certifications on everything from fish to timber can be seen as progress, promising higher standards and transparency in the pursuit of sustainability. But what purpose are the certification labels actually serving? Can we assume that they are beneficial to producers? Do consumers understand what’s behind a certification label, and does it even matter if they do?

Why chief sustainability officers are in a pickle
Sustainability is about transformation — creating more value with far fewer resources. Many industries will be transformed in the next decade, and examples already abound… Yet, at many Fortune 500 companies, the progress toward transformation is slow. Why? Data from 90 heads of sustainability or environment, health and safety (EHS) at a recent Conference Board meeting suggests that sustainability governance is broken.

UN Calling on Local Business Leaders, Changemakers to ‘Pioneer’ Action on SDGs
To spur action and inspire businesses to help advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, or global goals), the United Nations (UN) Global Compact announced a multi-year Local Network SDG Action Plan last month. The Action Plan is also intended to assist the UN Global Compact’s Local Networks in the development and execution of SDG implementation strategies and, where possible, link them with national plans of action.

New Documentary Shines A Light On Solar’s Role In Our Clean Energy Future
A new solar documentary, set to be released on the first of April, follows the stories of solar workers and entrepreneurs in the US, and examines how solar energy can both democratize and decentralize energy “in a way that rebuilds the ladder of economic opportunity.”

5 Tactics For Sustaining The Corporate Renewables Market
The year 2015 represented a major turning point for electricity generation in the United States. The country retired 14 GW of fossil-fueled generation. Meanwhile, it brought online 16.4 GW of carbon-free generation… Renewables still have much ground left to cover. The good news is that renewable capacity growth has a new ally, with the potential of mobilizing tens—at times, hundreds—of additional MWs at each step: corporate demand for renewable energy.

JPMorgan Backs Away From Investing In Coal, Compares It To Child Labor
Multinational banking and financial services company JPMorgan Chase has backed away from investing in new coal mining projects. Joining a growing list of companies and banks to step away from investing in fossil fuels, specifically the struggling coal industry. JPMorgan Chase published the latest version of its Environmental and Social Policy Framework. The Framework serves to acknowledge how the company’s “business decisions have the potential to impact surrounding communities and the environment.”

Norway’s £500bn sovereign wealth fund drops deforestation firms
The Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG) manages 7 trillion Norwegian Krone (£528 billion) worth of funds and released its annual report for 2015 on Wednesday. The report shows that six palm oil firms, four pulp and paper companies, and one coal firm were dropped from its investment portfolio last year.

Stringent environmental policies do not harm exports, concludes OECD
Countries that implement tougher environmental policies do not lose export competitiveness compared to countries with more moderate regulations, a new study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has argued.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Study shows pay-as-you-throw improved recycling and cut waste in France
A report published by France’s Sustainable Development General Commission has shown that introducing pay-as-you-throw schemes improved the quantity of material collected. In 2013, 5.4 million French households were placed in a pay-as-you-throw scheme. The results of this were sorting of material improved, the amount of waste fell and flytipping was no worse than anywhere else. One of the positive effects of introducing the charge was that the simple act of communicating the change helped to create improvements, even in areas that did not introduce the pay-as-you-throw schemes.

Could a new plastic-eating bacteria help combat this pollution scourge?
Nature has begun to fight back against the vast piles of filth dumped into its soils, rivers and oceans by evolving a plastic-eating bacteria – the first known to science. In a report published in the journal Science, a team of Japanese researchers described a species of bacteria that can break the molecular bonds of one of the world’s most-used plastics – polyethylene terephthalate, also known as PET or polyester.

27 steps to cut food waste and save billions
The Rethink Food Waste through Economics and Data (ReFED) consortium who studied the problem for a year said Wednesday there are 27 pretty easy steps that, if scaled nationwide, would cut food waste by 20 percent or 13 million tons in a decade.

Politics and Society

How climate denial gained a foothold in the Liberal Party, and why it still won’t go away
It seems the Liberal Party is still having trouble letting go of climate denial, judging by the New South Wales branch’s demand that the Turnbull government arrange a series of public debates on climate science. Leaving aside the fact that this kind of town hall debate would only entrench opposing viewpoints rather than making scientific headway (a task best left to peer-reviewed journals), it is not the only recent example of Liberal Party members seeking to stoke doubts over the reality of climate change.

US and Canada promise to lead world to low-carbon economy
The US and Canada declared they would help lead the transition to a low-carbon global economy on Thursday, in a dramatic role reversal for two countries once derided as climate change villains. The shared vision unveiled by Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau ahead of a meeting at the White House commits the two countries to a range of actions to shore up the historic climate agreement reached in Paris last December.


Leaked European commission plan would open gates to overfishing
Fishermen could soon be given carte blanche to overfish without needing to worry about restoring fish populations to a healthy state under a leaked European commission proposal seen by the Guardian. If it is approved, the blueprint for the Baltic Sea could soon be applied to the North Sea too, potentially threatening the future of some cod species, MEPs say. The plan would add exemptions to catch limits that are supposed to become mandatory by 2020 and practically remove a commitment to restoring fish stocks to healthy levels by the same year.

Built Environment

Here comes the Nightingale Model, scaling up now in Fairfield
AUSTRALIA – Melbourne’s next apartment complex to be created using the triple-bottom-line Nightingale Model will have an eight-star design and fossil-fuel-free operation that is nationally significant, according to the project team. It will exist as a beacon to developers to show there is a market of purchasers chasing an alternative development outcome.


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