Sustainable Development News

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

Friday essay: reflections on the idea of a common humanity
It is striking how often people now speak of “a common humanity” in ethically inflected registers, or ethically resonant tones that express a fellowship of all the peoples of the earth, or sometimes the hope for such a fellowship. It is also striking how often we speak of our humanity as something that is not given to us once and for all, as species membership is, but something towards which we are called upon to rise – not until such time as we achieve it, which could be different from one person to another – but unendingly, until we die. The two seem interdependent: to recognise the humanity of others we must rise to the humanity in ourselves, but to do that we must at least be open to seeing fully the humanity of all people. 

Energy and Climate Change 

POSCO to lose money on Hume Coal, should snap up cheap assets instead: reports
A new coal mine planned for the NSW Southern Highlands would lose money on every tonne produced and clock up a net cost to the owner of more than half a billion dollars, two new reports say. Hume Coal, owned by Korean steel giant POSCO, wants to develop an underground mine near Berrima, about 130km south-west of Sydney.

Environment and Biodiversity 

Study reveals hard-working bees, pollinators need our help
Corporate control of agriculture, new viruses and climate change have been singled out among a long list of big threats to pollinators in a new horizon-scanning study co-authored by a Kiwi scientist. The importance of bees and other hard-working pollinators, relied upon for more than a third of the world’s crop production and 85 per cent of wild flowering plants, has been highlighted by countless studies and was the take-away message of the 2007 animated film Bee Movie. But until this week, international researchers had not taken a comprehensive, global look at the risks they’ll face in future decades.

The Curious Case of the Bumblebee, the Virus and the Tomato
Cucumber mosaic virus infects nearly 1,200 species of plants, and it’s spread by more than 75 species of aphids. In tomatoes, the virus causes stunted growth, decreased fertility, and fruit that are few, small, mottled, and sometimes rotten. CMV is obviously no friend to farmers, but a surprising new study suggests that the virus may not be all bad for the plants it infects. This is because bumblebees are more attracted to tomato plants infected with CMV. And while tomato plants can self-pollinate, they produce more seeds when a bumblebee does their dirty work.

Fish-farm escapees are weakening Norwegian wild salmon genetics
Farmed salmon escaping from Norwegian aquaculture facilities are mating with wild salmon frequently enough to dilute their genetic stock, according to a recent paper. As a result the wild salmon have decreased genetic variability, according to the study authors, who are based at Norway’s government-run National Institute for Nature Study. Low genetic variability can make a species more susceptible to disease or even extinction.

Island Sea Lions Offer Clues to Mysteriously Missing Mammals
The Falkland Islands, isolated in the far reaches of the southwest Atlantic Ocean, once boasted one of the world’s largest populations of southern sea lions. Now, they have one of the smallest. Hunting is the main reason for historical declines of seals and sea lions worldwide, but the Falklands population never recovered even though commercial hunts ended more than half a century ago… About 33 species of seals and sea lions exist worldwide, and as top marine predators, they are considered sentinels of ocean health. Consequently, their fate has far-reaching implications not only for other marine species such as penguins, but also for humans.

Does prohibiting local access to nature hurt African wildlife conservation?
Some conservationists and researchers believe that increased habitat loss is largely a result of punitive policies that have rendered wildlife valueless for landowners, especially in wildlife-dense areas of Africa that extend beyond the borders of tourist-favored national parks, and that such restrictions, ironically, turn people into nature’s enemy. Africa’s system of national parks and game reserves were largely modeled after the American approach: fortress-style ecosystems that people can visit but not live in, so that animals can dwell in virtually “unspoiled” environments. 

Out of sight, out of mind: Asia’s elusive Fishing Cat in trouble
Say the word “cat” and it’s unlikely the words “water” or “swimming” spring quickly to mind. But both are essential to the lifestyle of Asia’s Fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus). Short, powerfully built and about double the size of a domestic house cat, the Fishing cat is unusual among its kind. It’s utterly at home in Asian wetlands and in the water. And, yes, it is an excellent swimmer. But unfortunately for this unusual animal, it and its habitat are under severe threat. In Southeast Asia, for example, where P. viverrinus once commonly roamed, over 45 percent of protected wetlands and 94 percent of globally significant wetlands are threatened, according to the IUCN.

The $8.2 billion water bill to clean up the Barrier Reef by 2025 – and where to start
In 2015, the Australian and Queensland governments agreed on targets to greatly reduce the sediment and nutrient pollutants flowing onto the Great Barrier Reef… Dealing with water quality alone isn’t enough to protect the reef, as many others have pointed out before. But it is an essential ingredient in making it more resilient. Both the Australian and Queensland governments have committed more funding to improve water quality on the reef. In addition, the Queensland government established the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce… New work commissioned by the taskforce now gives us an idea of the likely cost of meeting those reef water quality targets.
See also: Great Barrier Reef: Cost to save reef tops $8 billion, report finds 

Stopping land clearing and replanting trees could help keep Australia cool in a warmer future
Land clearing is on the rise in Queensland and New South Wales, with land clearing laws being fiercely debated. In Queensland in 2013–14, 278,000 hectares of native vegetation were cleared (1.2 times the size of the Australian Capital Territory). A further 296,000ha were cleared in 2014–15. These are the highest rates of deforestation in the developed world. Land clearing on this scale is bad for a whole host of reasons. But our research shows that it is also likely to make parts of Australia warmer and drier, adding to the effects of climate change.

Authorities powerless to stop tilapia infestation in south-east Queensland
AUSTRALIA – An invasive fish species, which scientists say is implicated in the decline of native fish, is taking over Queensland’s freshwater catchments, and authorities concede they are powerless to stop the spread. 

Annual survey of Australasian shoveler ducks finds population healthy in central South Island
An annual survey of Australasian shoveler ducks has indicated populations are healthy in the central South Island, Fish and Game says. Fish and Game New Zealand Central South Island officer Rhys Adams said the prized spoils of hunters were slightly down on last year with 668 counted this week. However numbers fluctuated over the years which was normal and no cause for alarm, Adams said. A proportion of ducks were counted from sites which would be used as an regional index combined with national data to find a “representative” population count. 

Whitebaiters should ‘only take what they need’ – DOC
NEW ZEALAND – The future of whitebait populations in the Hawke’s Bay lies in the hands of local whitebaiters, says the Department of Conservation (DOC). The 2016 season begins this Monday. DOC compliance officer Rod Hansen said whitebait season dates and fishing hours were set to give whitebait the opportunity to return to their spawning grounds. Mr Hansen said when people did not follow those regulations, it harmed whitebait populations to a point where they might not recover. 

Environment Court declines Admiralty Bay mussel farm applications
NEW ZEALAND – A 15-year battle between marine farmers and conservationists in the Marlborough Sounds has ended with the denial of mussel farm extensions in Admiralty Bay.
  The Environment Court said it could not conclude effects on dusky dolphins and birdlife would be minor if existing farms were allowed to expand, a decision touted as “a line in the sand” for future applications 

Economy and Business 

The 6 key trends in supply chain sustainability
Making supply chains sustainable will be crucial to meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a new report from EY and the UN Global Compact says, however businesses have labelled it one of the biggest sustainability challenges. The EY report, The state of sustainable supply chains: Building responsible and resilient supply chains, highlights the actions companies are taking to develop more sustainable supply chains, their primary reasons for doing so and the main challenges they are facing. It features the results of interviews with 100 sustainability, supply chain and procurement specialists from 70 companies globally.

10 organizations leading the pack on healthy materials
Ingredient transparency gives consumers the option to make informed choices about the products they buy, and is on the upswing. Below is a list of 10 companies forging the demand for a healthy materials economy.

Can Stuffstr become the Uber for stuff?
Companies spend millions of dollars trying to understand what consumers do with their products. Manufacturers such as Apple, Microsoft and Sony may know more than most because many of their products don’t work unless you have a relationship with them. The makers of electric toothbrushes, blenders, clothing, you name it — they’re not so lucky. Most are flying pretty blind. It’s a serious competitiveness issue because today’s consumers aren’t as loyal to brands as they used to be. Cracking the code on how to keep them coming back has gotten much harder.

ADB issues $1.3 bn in global green bonds
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has issued its inaugural green bond, and has now gathered $1.3 billion in order to finance climate change mitigation and adaptation projects with the issue of dual-tranche 3-year and 10-year green bonds.

Politics and Society 

Balkan wildlife faces extinction threat from border fence to control migrants
The death toll of animals killed by a razor wire fence designed to stop migrants crossing into Europe is mounting, amid warnings that bears, lynx and wolves could become locally extinct if the barrier is completed and consolidated. The rising tally of dead roe and red deer is still mercifully small, but contested by local people who claim that it is being systematically under-counted.

Voluntary euthanasia petition hearings to start
NEW ZEALAND – The petition from former Labour MP Maryan Street asked that Parliament investigate public attitudes towards the introduction of legislation allowing medically-assisted dying in the event of a terminal illness or an irreversible condition which makes life unbearable. Health committee chair Simon O’Connor said the committee received 21,435 written submissions on the petition, and more than 1800 people were hoping to speak to the committee.

Frydenberg to push ahead with repeal of ARENA grant funding
AUSTRALIA – New environment and energy minister Josh Frydenberg says the Coalition government intends to go ahead with its plan to strip $1.3 billion of funds from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and end its grant-funding mechanisms, and says he expects Labor to support it.

Liverpool Plains: Baird government to pay BHP Billiton $220 million for licence
AUSTRALIA – Mining for coal under the fertile Liverpool Plains poses “too great a risk” for farming and the Baird government will pay BHP Billiton about $220 million to buy back its Caroona exploration licence. The move also raises doubts about the even bigger Watermark mine, an open-cut venture planned for a nearby region by China’s Shenhua group.

NT environment attitudes ‘need to change’
AUSTRALIA – ATTITUDES, cultures and policies surrounding the environment need to change if the Territory wants to keep its pristine wilderness as it is.
  That’s according to Charles Darwin University conservation lecturer Andrew Spiers who said harbour development, poor weed management and a bad burning culture was killing much of the NT environment. He said the environment was an issue largely ignored by most Territorians, despite some urgent problems presenting themselves. 

Cancer all-clear given to weedkiller glyphosate by New Zealand scientific review 
New Zealand scientists have reviewed the evidence on the weedkiller glyphosate and announced it is “unlikely” to be carcinogenic and should not be classified as a mutagen or carcinogen under the HSNO Act. Poisons expert Dr Wayne Temple and his colleague from the National Poisons Centre, Michael Beasley, carried out the review, which was commissioned by the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).   

Greens: Tax tourists to fund conservation
NEW ZEALAND – The Green Party would nearly double the tax foreign tourists pay at the border to fund conservation efforts and regional tourism. Its so-called “Taonga Levy” would increase current border charges for international visitors by between $14 to $18 to a total border levy of around $40. The Greens’ proposed tax, not applicable to Kiwis, would be split 70-30 toward the just-announced Predator Free New Zealand (PFNZ) effort and the Regional Mid-sized Tourism Facilities Fund.

Built Environment 

How Florida and Colorado are trying to build smart cities from the ground up
Ambitious new cities Songdo and Masdar may not have lived up to their promise, but smaller projects in the US aim to be laboratories for sustainable city planning.

National guidelines for planning resilient communities released
Built environment professionals can ensure Australian communities are better protected from the impacts of climate change and natural disasters by getting a better understanding of risk and resilience and how to factor them into plans and buildings, according to the Planning Institute of Australia.

Melbourne looks to science for carbon reduction ramp-up
The City of Melbourne looks set to endorse “science-based” emissions reduction targets for its operations, which it says are in line with global reductions needed to limit global warming to 1.5-2°C. The Emissions Reduction Plan for Council Operations 2016-2021, which will be considered by the council’s Future Melbourne Committee on Tuesday, would see the already met target of a 10 per cent cut of 2010-11 levels by 2018 be substantially boosted to an annual 4.5 per cent cut, equating to a 34 per cent cut over the 10 years to 2020.

Food Systems 

How the Better Buying Lab Aims to Accelerate Demand for Sustainable Food
As Dr. Andrew Steer, president and CEO of WRI, says, “If we want to feed a growing population without straining natural resources, we have to do more than change mindsets; we have to change diets.” Why then — given the recognized benefits of plant-based diets and the growing number of people who want to consume sustainable foods — don’t more people change what they eat?


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