Sustainable Development News

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

Turnbull’s misgivings on renewables overlook economic and financial realities
Despite Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s misgivings about the “aggressive” renewable energy targets of South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, renewable energy could be considered a central part of his innovation “ideas boom”.  As former US Vice President Al Gore has said, the US$391 billion invested in 2014 in clean energy and low carbon development makes it “the biggest new business opportunity in the history of the world”.

Energy and Climate Change

Global summit to strike deal on phase-out of HFCs
Governments will address the law of unintended consequences when they meet this week to revise a global treaty and try to eliminate the use of a group of greenhouse gases used in fridges, inhalers and air conditioners… One hundred and ninety-seven countries signed the historic 1987 agreement which phased out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and similar hydrochlorofluoro carbons (HCFCs) and has seen gradual closure of the two polar ozone holes.  But concern has been mounting at how their substitute is undermining the landmark Paris climate agreement and could hamper attempts to keep global warming below dangerous levels.

The new UN deal on aviation emissions leaves much to be desired
Emissions fron international flights – a bugbear of efforts to combat climate change – will finally be regulated under a scheme agreed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on Thursday last week… Governments all took the view that, given jurisdictional and aircraft ownership and control issues, and the nature of the problem, ICAO was the appropriate forum to address the emissions problem. It was also a reflection of how difficult the problem was – and still is – to solve.

Jonathan Boston: The clock is ticking on our carbon budget
NEW ZEALAND – Last week our Government ratified the Paris Agreement to combat climate change. Under the agreement, governments pledged to keep warming ‘well below’ 2°C above their pre-industrial levels and “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C”.  Suppose New Zealand took this pledge seriously. What would it mean for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions?

Environment and Biodiversity

Healthy guts are swarming with bugs, so what do they do?
The healthy human body is swarming with microorganisms. They inhabit every nook and cranny on the surfaces of our body. But by far the largest collection of microorganisms reside in our gastrointestinal tract – our gut… Our microbiota is not an accidental, free-loading passenger living in our gut and stealing the nutrients from our food. Over the millennia we have evolved with our microbiota. We now know it can affect many aspects of our biology, from our digestive system to our brain function.

Gut feeling: how your microbiota affects your mood, sleep and stress levels
The gut microbiota is the community of bugs, including bacteria, that live in our intestine. It has been called the body’s “forgotten organ” because of the important role it plays beyond digestion and metabolism. You might have read about the importance of a healthy gut microbiota for a healthy brain. Links have been made between the microbiota and depression, anxiety and stress. Your gut bacteria may even affect how well you sleep.  But it can be difficult to work out exactly how far the science has come in this emerging field of research. So what evidence is there that your gut microbiota affects your brain?

Apes show complex cognitive skills watching King Kong videos: scientists
A new study finds that great apes show some key abilities to see the world from someone else’s point of view – a trait that once was considered uniquely human. Scientists using homemade videos featuring a person in a King Kong costume have documented a remarkable cognitive skill shared by chimpanzees, bonobos and orang-utans: the human-like ability to recognise when someone else’s beliefs are wrong.

Colossal Pacific Salmon Run Reduced to Rubble — Climate Change To Blame Say Scientists
British Columbia, Canada – Salmon returning to the Fraser, the longest river in British Columbia (BC), were at their lowest level since record keeping began this fall. Fewer than 900,000 sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka) are projected to have returned to their traditional breeding grounds, causing commercial and First Nations fisheries to shut down completely.

Call for action to protect ‘the lungs of the sea’
More than 100 scientists from 28 countries have called for global action to protect seagrass meadows. Seagrasses are flowering plants that form dense underwater beds in shallow water. Distinct from seaweed, the plants provide shelter and food for a large range of animals, including fish, marine mammals and birds.  Many seagrass meadows have been lost because of human activities, say researchers.

Butterfly numbers drop a mystery, say experts
A huge drop in the number of butterflies in the UK is causing confusion among wildlife experts. The Big Butterfly Count – an annual survey by thousands of volunteers – recorded an average 12.2 per count, compared with a 2013 high of 23. Numbers were even lower than a previous slump in the wet summer of 2012, despite far warmer weather. Butterfly Conservation, which organised the count, said the cause was still a mystery.

Cattle stomp in critically-endangered bird habitat
NEW ZEALAND – Cattle have been spotted grazing and defecating near a breeding area for one of the world’s most endangered birds. An environmental lobby group says it is a terrible look for the Mackenzie ecological area. A marauding cattle herd was photographed last month walking freely along the Hopkins river bed, near Mount Cook… The area is home to the kaki/black stilt, the world’s rarest wading bird. There are between 70 and 90 adult kaki in the wild.  It is one step away from extinction. Kaki breed exclusively in the braided rivers around the Mackenzie Basin.

Black stilts, or kaki, in the Tasman Valley in 2008.

Black stilts, or kaki, in the Tasman Valley in 2008.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The best views in the country have gotten better, thanks to air pollution laws
USA – On a clear, cool morning this week atop Hawksbill Summit, the highest peak in this 80-year-old national park, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell gazed at the scenery unfolding to the west. White clouds covered the valley thousands of feet below. A mountain range rose in the distance. Trees covering every slope had begun to offer the first orange and yellow hints of autumn. The blue sky stretched endlessly. Not that long ago, Jewell said, “the air quality here was not like this.”

Economy and Business

UBS builds index to rate corporate social and environmental impact
A tool that measures the impact of a company’s activities on the environment and public health and rates it as good or bad is just around the corner. UBS Asset management is working on a rating system which will assess whether a company has a positive or negative impact on the world, making it far easier for even hard-nosed performance driven investors to channel funds into companies that are environmentally and socially sustainable.

Cities turn a new leaf to count the ROI of trees
Cities and companies have found a common denominator [to measure sustainability performance] — people, otherwise known as human capital. A number of studies show that a happy and healthy community — one that is environmentally, socially and economically balanced — has measurable and positive impacts on a region and the quality of life. One way this is coming to fruition is through trees.

Scoring palm oil buyers on their sustainability commitments
The scorecard reports the results of WWF’s analysis of 137 retailers, manufacturers, and food service companies from Australia, Canada, Europe, India, Japan, and the United States that collectively use more than six million metric tons of palm oil, 10 percent of all palm oil traded around the globe. Out of the 137 companies, WWF found that only 78 had made commitments to use 100 certified sustainable palm oil by 2015, while 30 have not made any kind of public commitment whatsoever. Just 96 companies reported using any certified sustainable palm oil in 2015, the scorecard states.

Summer lull in Europe, Asia slowdown make for weak clean energy investment in third quarter
Global clean energy investment had its weakest quarter since 2013 between July and September this year, under the impact of a summer lull in offshore wind financings in Europe and a further stage in the slowdown seen this year in project funding in China and Japan.

Robert F Kennedy Jr takes big business to task over pollution at SXSW Eco
Robert F Kennedy Jr, a long-time environmental advocate, took big business to task as he stood on stage at the SXSW Eco environment conference in Austin on Monday. As one would expect from an attorney who is deft at making strong arguments, Kennedy lobbed punchy attacks on the Koch brothers and companies for characterizing environmental protection as an unnecessary expense that hurts business. “You will hear a lot of times from big polluters… that we have to choose economic prosperity on one hand and environmental protection on the other,” Kennedy said. “Good environmental policy is good for economic prosperity.”

Politics and Society

What’s really going wrong with electricity?
The extreme weather conditions and 80,000 lightning strikes that thrust South Australia into darkness last week was extraordinary enough; the disingenuous debate it sparked about Australia’s changing energy system has been something else again… After noting the blackout was the result of a storm, [Turnbull] whacked Labor-led states for setting “extremely aggressive, extremely unrealistic” clean energy targets rather than merely sticking to what should be his central point: that an inevitable change is under way in the electricity system. The only real questions are: are we managing it well? If not, how do we fix it?

South Australia triggers Turnbull backflip on renewables
One of the world’s leading energy analysts has raised concerns that the Australian federal government’s focus on “energy security” could simply be used as an excuse to go slow on renewable energy and hold back efforts on climate targets. Bloomberg New Energy Finance, in a detailed note issued after the CoAG energy ministers meeting on Friday, says it is unclear whether a new focus on energy security will result in “innovation of policy or better integrate renewables, or measures to retard renewables.”

Adani coal mine: Anthony Lynham dismisses criticism over approval of controversial $21.7b project
AUSTRALIA – Queensland’s Mines Minister has dismissed environmental criticism of his decision to invoke special powers to hurry along Adani’s $21.7 billion Carmichael coal and rail project in the Galilee Basin. Greenpeace, GetUp, and the Greens Party warn granting the project “critical infrastructure” status will put the Great Barrier Reef in danger. But Anthony Lynham said it was time to move on.

Cease coal imports, embrace affordable solar, urges Indian power minister
India’s power minister Piyush Goyal has called on the country’s power generators to cease coal imports if the nation is to come good on its “One Nation, One Grid, One Price” energy goal. Speaking at the two-day Energy Conclave 2016 event, the head of India’s decision-making on energy and power stressed that the government will hold a dialogue designed to wean private companies off their reliance on coal imports.

Fracking is a form of climate-change denial (Opinion)
Here’s one thing we don’t often want to admit: it is too late to stop many of the harshest and most destructive aspects of climate change from materialising. We’re out of time. Superstorms, droughts, floods, disappearing islands, coastlines and lost species are already here.

Caring for Creation makes the Christian case for climate action
Recently a book has been published by a faith-science duo. That duo is Paul Douglas, respected meteorologist, entrepreneur, Republican, and Christian, and his writing partner Mitch Hescox who leads the Evangelical Environmental Network (the largest evangelical group devoted to creation care). Their book, entitled Caring for Creation, provides a masterful balance of science, faith, and personal journey.

Will social impact bonds change the world?
Social impact bonds, or social benefit bonds as they are called in New South Wales, are generating enough excitement to make Malcolm Turnbull proud. Not only that, they fit right into his innovation agenda, holding out the promise of a new way to tackle some of our most intractable social problems. They also tap into a growing market for investments aimed at doing good as well as earning a return. The idea is to harness the resources of private investors to fund social programs at a time when governments feel increasingly constrained.

Renters are being left out in the cold on energy savings: here’s a solution
Saving energy is a win-win. You reduce greenhouse emissions and you reduce your energy bills. However, improving energy efficiency is not an option for a significant number of people in Australia – renters. This is important not only because rental properties account for 29.6 per cent of Australian houses, or 2.3 million homes, but because the high proportion of low-income households in rental properties are particularly vulnerable to rising energy prices.

Marlborough family enjoy Maud Island to themselves
NEW ZEALAND – When 10-year-old Piripi Higgott wants to catch up with his best mate, he needs to catch a boat to the island across the bay. That’s because his family are the only human inhabitants of Maud Island in the Marlborough Sounds. Along with his sister Heeni, 8, the Higgott children have the entire island, which was officially declared predator-free last month, as their playground. Their parents Frank Higgott and Sue Caldwell live and work on the island fulltime as Department of Conservation rangers.

Built Environment

Floth’s HQ announced as Asia Pacific sustainability leader
Brisbane-based building services and engineering consultancy Floth’s 69 Robertson Street HQ has been named most sustainable commercial office at the World Green Building Council’s Asia Pacific Leadership Awards in Mumbai. The Leadership in Sustainable Design and Performance Award recognises projects that set new benchmarks for sustainability.

Food Systems

Our love of cheap seafood is tainted by slavery: how can it be fixed?
A rusting, unusable boat, abandoned at sea. Its crew left to fend for themselves 70 nautical miles off the coast of Guinea, west Africa, without radio or safety equipment, abandoned by the boat’s operator. This is just one shocking story of a global fishing industry that is rife with incidents of abuse, murder and slavery. Human rights exploitation in the seafood sector is a tragedy that has been documented for a decade.


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