Sustainable Development News

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

UK-wide carbon tax would have ‘little impact’ on consumers, study finds
A “modest” uniform carbon tax of £20 a tonne would have a negligible impact on consumer prices, according to a new study that attempts to make the case for wider adoption of carbon pricing policies. The study from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at London School of Economics and Political Science argues that applying the tax to all fuels would increase UK consumer prices by up to just 0.9 per cent, assuming all costs were passed along supply chains fully.

Energy and Climate Change

Scientists try to replicate climate denier findings and fail
Does the Ted Cruz in you ever wonder whether global warming really is just a hoax? Whether skeptics really are the Galileos of our time? Whether climate scientists really do just want to make money? Well, wonder no more. A group of researchers just tried to replicate 38 peer-reviewed studies that support skeptic talking points, and surprise! They ran into some trouble.

India Gets $1.5 Billion Loan For Rooftop Solar Power Program
India’s rooftop solar power program has received a much-needed boost even as sector experts believe that the target of 40 GW installed capacity by 2022 looks extremely ambitious.  Officials of the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy (MNRE) recently announced that the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the newly-founded BRICS development bank will provide $500 million each for development of rooftop solar power projects in the country.

Fracking shakes the American west: ‘a millennium’s worth of earthquakes’
Oklahomans don’t blink when they hear warnings about tornadoes, drought or ice-storms. Earthquakes, however, catch their attention. Increasingly tied to tremors shaking the west, fracking for natural gas is creating alarm and division around western states that until recently enjoyed a boom in jobs and revenue. In Oklahoma, seismologists have warned that significant temblors last week could signal a larger, more dangerous earthquake to come in a state where drilling is destabilizing the bedrock.

Environment and Biodiversity

The solution for the melting polar ice caps may be hiding in the rainforest | Dr Paul Salaman (Opinion)
There was already dramatic evidence that our planet is undeniably warming before 30 December 2015, when the world heard that the ice at the North Pole was melting. (The temperature on 30 December 2015 was, by some reports, 33ºF [0.7ºC], 50ºF above average). And yet one immediate, effective way to fight climate change and save polar ice caps is half a world away, in the tropics. Tropical forest conservation and restoration could constitute half of the global warming solution, according to a recent peer reviewed commentary in Nature Climate Change.

The meaning of a bumblebee
UK – It came over our hedge and performed a slow swerve around me, a flying creature the size of a snowdrop’s bloom, but rotund and black except for pale detail at the abdomen tip. I was so shocked I looked round for someone to receive the instantaneous and extraordinary tidings: a bumblebee at New Year! What on Earth can such a sighting mean?

Spiders are a treasure trove of scientific wonder
Australia has an incredible diversity of native spiders, including the potentially lethal funnel-web, the ubiquitous huntsman, and the charming peacock spider. Only two can be deadly for humans – the funnel-web and redback spiders – and we have antivenom for both. Found all across the country, spiders play an important role in the environment as generalist predators. Increasingly, their venom is being used to develop novel human therapeutics and to create new, selective, sustainable insecticides.

Fires and flood: West Australian weekend weather was wild
While farmers in Western Australia’s south west were battling fire at the weekend, just over 300 kilometres away farmers in the Avon valley were dealing with a deluge.  Bakers Hill grazier Chris Wyhoon says he received 40 millimetres in 20 minutes at his Bakers Hill property on Saturday, wreaking havoc on his fodder and fence lines.

Sunnier, drier year for much of NZ in 2015
It was a sunnier, drier year for most of the country in 2015. Niwa’s [National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research] annual climate summary shows it was the driest year on record for Kaitaia, which recorded 75 per cent (941mm) of its normal annual rainfall, and Kerikeri which recorded 63 per cent (1071mm)…

Stewart Island kiwi deaths spur Southland District Council action
NEW ZEALAND – The Southland District Council is promising action after native birds were killed by dogs on Stewart Island. Council environmental health manager Michael Sarfaiti said councillors agreed more education was needed to prevent dog attacks on the island, after concerns were raised by Department of Conservation staff and Island residents.

Competition Winner: King of the swingers.

Winner: King of the swingers.
Grey langurs play in the evening light of Bandipur national park, Karnataka, India. Vijayan travelled from Canada to India to photograph tigers and leopards. After a day on safari with no sight of the big cats, his attention was caught by a group of grey langurs playing on a nearby tree
Photograph: Thomas Vijayan/NHM

Demand for Fish Bladder May Wipe Out World’s Rarest Ocean Mammal
Just last week, a friend at the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) emailed me to ask if I’ve ever written about the trafficking of totoaba swim bladders, adding that she’s been working on vaquita conservation in the Gulf of California. Totoaba? Vaquitas? These were animals that definitely hadn’t been on my radar. Totoabas are large, rare fish found only in the Gulf of California, and it turns out that their swim bladders—the organ that helps them float—is in high demand in China for soups and medicines. Demand is so high that a Mexican fisherman can make more than a month’s salary if he sells just one to a trafficker (to say nothing of how much that trafficker makes when he sells it to a customer).

Wildlife photographer of the year people’s choice award – in pictures (right)
Thomas Vijayan’s image of grey langurs was the overwhelming favourite among the almost 20,000 nature photography lovers that voted in the Wildlife photographer of the year people’s choice award. This year’s vote showcased 25 images, preselected by the jury from more than 42,000 submissions from almost 100 countries.


Shallow groundwater poses pollution problem for Africa
The groundwater in many of Africa’s most crowded regions lies close to the surface, making it vulnerable to pollution, a study shows… The findings could assist donors and agencies that manage water use across borders, says coauthor and environmental scientist Marnik Vanclooster. It is then up to national governments to carry out more specific research at the local level, adds lead author Issoufou Ouedraogo, a PhD student at the university.

Economy and Business

Final bill for winter flooding will hit £1.3bn, insurers say
The final bill for the flood damage caused by this winter’s storms is likely to reach £1.3bn, the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has said. The figure covers damage caused to homes, businesses and motor vehicles by storms Desmond, Eva and Frank during December and over the new year. The ABI said that nearly £24m of emergency payments had already been made to households and businesses. More than 3,000 families are now in alternative accommodation while their homes are being repaired.

Fall in trade through Newcastle Port blamed on difficult coal market
The Port of Newcastle has recorded a decrease in trade last year compared to the previous 12 months, due mainly to a fall in coal exports. It says while trade remains strong, with 163.9 million tonnes handled last year, it has recorded a 0.3 per cent fall on 2014.  158.1 million tonnes of coal was exported through the port, representing 96.5 per cent of trade.  But that is a 0.6 per cent drop on 2014.

Australian cleantech stocks continue to outperform main indices
Australian CleanTech Index again outperformed the ASX200 for both the month and the quarter. The Australian CleanTech Index rose from 42.94 to 44.57 over the month of December recording a 3.8% gain. This compared to the ASX200 gain of 2.5% and the ASX Small Ordinaries Index gain of 3.6%. The Australian CleanTech 20 also recorded a gain of 3.8%

Politics and Society

The five ethical stories that will define the next decade
From the use of antibiotics in farming to China’s environmental tipping point – a look at the issues that could define the next ten years: China’s tipping point; Technology’s role in mental health; The toll of industrial farming; The madness of bottled water; and Money and climate change.

The ‘mafias’ terrorising Indians and pillaging the environment as government corruption flourishes
Rampant corruption is paving the way for violence, lawlessness and environmental damage in India. Baba Umar walks through bulldozed foundations that were to be his new home, to the location of a chilling attack on his mother. Pointing to dried blood still visible on some grass, he recounts the details. “These guys, they came with steel rods, shovels, axe, and they beat my mother ruthlessly,” he said. The attackers were so-called “land mafia”, based in his city of Srinagar, Kashmir. “They’ve been trying to forcibly grab this piece of land from us,” Mr Umar said.

UK government misses own green targets
The government has failed to meet its own targets for cutting the environmental impact of the state’s operations, according to a Defra report quietly published last month. The “greening government commitments”, which began when David Cameron declared he would lead the “greenest government ever” in 2010, were intended to deliver big cuts in carbon emissions, domestic flights, waste and water usage.  Efforts fell short on all counts, though the reductions that were achieved still saved taxpayers £185m in the last year.

Built Environment

Growing challenges are disrupting our old ways of getting around cities
The challenges of mobility in the city are well known; roads at capacity, urban growth, peak oil, air quality and climate change are among the prominent ones. These challenges are already on the verge of disruption if we simply prioritise roads and cars. Melbourne and Sydney roads are at capacity – or beyond – in commuting hours already. There is just no space to cater for the transport demands of population growth of the predicted 50-100%. We need change, and we need it urgently. But twisting a complex system somewhere, even with the best intentions, may have unintended consequences elsewhere. An evolution might be a better approach than just allowing technology to disrupt.

Latest technology in straw bale home construction comes to unique organic community
“Straw bale housing is a bit of a love-hate thing,” says Sam Statham in his home with its slightly wonky walls and earthy, rustic charm… he said building a straw bale house, particularly the way he built his home 15 years ago — using a post and beam frame of cypress poles and in-filling with the bales — was hard work… That is why Mr Statham is now using a new type of pre-fabricated straw bale technology to build the latest dwelling in the unique organic farming community he and his family share with half a dozen others, in Canowindra in central-west New South Wales.


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