Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Energy and Climate Change


Sea level rise accelerated over the past two decades, research finds
Sea level rise sped up over the last two decades rather than slowing down as previously thought, according to new research. Records from tide gauges and satellites have shown sea level rise slowing slightly over the past 20 years. But as the ice sheets of West Antarctica and Greenland shed ever more water into the ocean, climate models show it should be doing the opposite. “The thing that was really puzzling us was that the last decade of sea level rise was marginally slower, ever so subtly slower, than the decade before it,” said Dr Christopher Watson from the University of Tasmania who led the new study.

Antarctica’s increasing sea ice restricting access to research stations
Sea ice around Antarctica is currently at record levels for May, part of a trend of increasing ice around the frozen continent making it harder to resupply and refuel research stations. More than 50 scientists are gathering in Hobart in Tasmania this week for a series of workshops on techniques to more accurately forecast sea ice levels in the polar region, aiming to save millions of dollars in shipping costs.

Coal set to dominate as Myanmar mulls energy strategy
Free from direct military rule, Myanmar is embarking on ambitious energy reforms, but renewables look set to miss out.  The government has a massive problem. Only one in three of the country’s 53 million citizens has access to electricity, but as it opens up to the world, those people are demanding change… In 2011, hydro provided 74% of electricity, gas 21% and coal 3%. By 2030, they want a third of electricity to be powered by coal, 38% from hydro and 20% from gas. They are also aiming for 7.2 million new grid connections.

Follow the Leader: Hawaii Aims for 100% Renewable Energy
If you’re looking for the perfect place to park your new Tesla Powerwall battery, Hawaii is it. The solar-friendly state has been working on a laundry list of renewable energy strategies in a coordinated effort to wean itself from fossil fuels. Last week, the state legislature upped the ante by passing a bill that calls for 100 percent renewables by 2045.

Environment and Biodiversity

Your gut bacteria don’t like junk food – even if you do
A recent study took a group of Africans who ate a traditional local diet high in beans and vegetables and swapped their diet with a group of African Americans who ate a diet high in fat and animal proteins and low dietary fibre. The Africans fared worse on American-style food: their metabolism changed to a diabetic and unhealthy profile within just two weeks. The African Americans instead had lower markers for colon cancer risk. Tests of both groups showed very different microbiomes, the populations of microbes in their guts.

Renewed hopes Tarwyn Park’s Natural Sequence Farming method will continue despite property sale
There are renewed hopes this week that the work of “irascible genius” land care pioneer Peter Andrews will continue despite the loss of the famous property where he developed his revolutionary theories. Tarwyn Park in the Hunter Region has been sold to make way for a Korean-owned open cut coal mining venture. But as Australian Story reveals, some of the “heavy hitters” who have been impressed by Mr Andrews’s success say the work will go on regardless — and more and more individuals and organisations are taking up his method known as Natural Sequence Farming (NSF). NSF is the practice of restoring degraded Australian landscapes to how they would have been prior to European settlement, and counts Don Burke, Costa Georgiadis and former governor general Michael Jeffery as fans.

England’s water voles in desperate decline
English waterways could lose one of their most charismatic and once widespread residents as water voles succumb to the invasive American mink, records released by the Canal and River Trust show. Between 1970 and 1999, water voles were found on 269 of the 2,000 miles of waterways managed by the trust. But since the turn of the century, their range dropped by almost 50% to 141 miles. Mark Robinson, national ecologist for the Canal and River Trust, said the numbers told of a species in desperate decline.

India’s Asiatic lion population rising
Wildlife experts have welcomed census figures showing India’s population of endangered Asiatic lions has increased in the last five years in the western state of Gujarat. Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel said officials counted 523 lions, up 27% from the last census conducted in 2010 in Gir sanctuary, the last habitat for the big cats globally.  The census was conducted over five days earlier this month in the 20,000 sqkm (7,700 sq m) sanctuary and surrounding forest lands.

Economy and Business

Consumer Awareness Won’t Save The World: We Need Businesses That Can Change People’s Habits For Good
One of the greatest challenges facing governments and companies around the world is how to influence consumers into developing more sustainable buying habits and lifestyles. There is a significant opportunity for businesses to help consumers make major changes in their lifestyles and purchasing habits. The role of businesses in this context goes well beyond just increasing consumers’ awareness of their social and environmental responsibilities, which by itself is not sufficient to address today’s problems with the scale and the speed that are needed. For example, while market research in Brazil has identified an increase in consumers’ awareness of environmental issues over the last 20 years, this has not resulted in any major changes to their buying habits and preferences, at least not at the same rate of change.

Finding the ROI in Sustainability
Just about anyone who has worked in the area of sustainability has had to deal with the question of justifying long-term investments on a financial basis. Some measures, like fixing leaks and making efficiency improvements, pay off quickly and are therefore easy to approve. These are the proverbial low-hanging fruit. It’s when the investments take a little longer to pay off in dollars and cents that the conversation between sustainability director and CFO becomes a little more challenging.

Reports: Mazda and Toyota seek to accelerate low emission cars
Toyota and Mazda are reportedly in talks over a major partnership to expand production of low emission vehicle technologies, including hydrogen fuel cell cars and plug-in hybrids, in response to tightening regulations. According to the Nikkei business daily, the two automakers plan to reach an agreement in principle to collaborate on the development of key green technologies. Toyota would supply fuel cell and plug-in hybrid technology to Mazda, which would offer its series of Skyactiv technologies that aim to deliver fuel-efficient petrol and diesel vehicles

Offsetters, Eco Fashion Week Team Up to Reduce Environmental Impacts of Fashion Industry
Last month, Vancouver welcomed back the ninth season of Eco Fashion Week (EFW), to celebrate the ongoing transformation of the fashion industry into one that is aware of and co-exists with the environment. This year’s Eco Fashion Week fell during Earth Week, with Offsetters Climate Solutions on board as the Official Offset Sponsor, helping to raise awareness of the environmental, and more specifically, the carbon impact made by the fashion industry worldwide. The week was inspiring, energizing and reinvigorating, full of runway shows, speaker sessions, films and, of course, more shows!

Are renewable energy certificates a scam?
Q. Got an email from a company called Arcadia Power. They say they can source my energy such that it comes from renewables, then pay my energy bill for me. Can they do this? Is my money safe with them? Won’t my municipally owned power company be upset? I would love to make the switch, but I want to be sure this is legit.  Margarita M, San Antonio
A. Dearest Margarita, Kudos for setting a prime example in savvy consumerism. If everybody applied this scrutiny to every product promising miracle weight loss, get-rich-quick results, or the kind of unmentionable claims that populate my spam folder, we’d all be happier (and have a few more bucks in our pockets). In fact, from now on, let’s all take a step back and ask ourselves, “Wait, they’re doing what with my money?” before whipping out our wallets.

[Ed: RECs are not available in NZ where 80% of electricity comes from renewable energy but is certainly available in Australia where 88% of electricity comes from fossil fuels]

Politics and Society

Climate change protestors issue call to public
NEW ZEALAND – A Marlborough father and son have decided to make a public stand to highlight potential effects of climate change in the region. Former farm advisor Bill McEwan and his son, Robbie, will not eat for up to a week while they camp out in the Blenheim Band Rotunda to publicise what is at stake locally if a solution to climate change is not found. “It is not a sit-in but a call, or karanga, to the local people,” said McEwan senior, 70, who calls himself a “son of Marlborough.” McEwan said climate change is a “freight train” about to hit the region. Climate change will affect everything from droughts, floods to Super 15 rugby, he said. “We are in for big changes in our weather which will affect our jobs, businesses, health, education and quality of life.”

Landowners to be offered grants to plant forests
NEW ZEALAND – Farmers are to be encouraged to plant trees on erosion-prone land under a new government scheme worth $22 million over six years. Successful applicants will receive $1300 per hectare for new forest planting, with priority given to applications addressing environmental issues such as erosion.   The Government predicts 15,000 ha of forest will be planted over six years under the rebooted Afforestation Grant Scheme (AGS). The Forest Owners Association (FOA)  welcomed the scheme as a “useful contribution” to forestry at a time when the country was losing the area planted in plantation forests.

Big Data is useful, but we need to protect your privacy too
These days, massive volumes of data about us are collected from censuses and surveys, computers and mobile devices, as well as scanning machines and sensors of many kinds. But this data can also reveal personal and sensitive information about us, raising some serious privacy concerns. Data are routinely collected when we shop, use public transport, visit our GP or access government services in person or online. There’s also data from using our smart phones and fitness monitoring devices.

Vertigo by Alice Oswald
Here is the first in the series of 20 original poems on the theme of climate change curated by the UK’s poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

Built Environment

Climate fight will be won or lost in cities – World Urban Campaign
Over half of the world’s population live in cities. They generate nearly 80% of global GDP, and use 70% of energy, according to the New Climate Economy report. What’s more, they are growing fast. Over a million head to urban areas every year. By 2050 nearly two thirds of us will live in built-up areas. As humans migrate towards the bright lights the need for coherent planning solutions has never been greater…  RTCC spoke to the WUC’s project manager Christine Auclair at its headquarters in Nairobi to find out more about the campaign’s aspirations.

Communal living projects moving from hippie to mainstream
UK – The hippies could be proven right. Four decades after they introduced the commune into the industrialised society, pooling goods and saving nature’s resources, sustainability and the sharing economy are on the up. This includes co-housing – where residents have seperate bedrooms but may share kitchen and dining facilities – which is also proving to be a lucrative business model. “It’s all about living healthy and happy lives without harming the planet,” says Sue Riddlestone, who co-founded a pioneering community of 82 low-energy, water-efficient homes called BedZED in south London more than a decade ago.

Wynyard Quarter app to drive sustainability
NEW ZEALAND – Sustainability just got smarter for Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter with the launch of an online tracking platform believed to be a New Zealand first. The Wynyard Quarter Smart website tracks and analyses data linked to sustainability targets on building performance, climate change mitigation, resource efficiency, environmental quality and transport. Waterfront Auckland sustainability manager Dr Viv Heslop said the information collected relates to real time energy-use in buildings, including how much rain water is collected and used and how many pedestrians and cyclists are using the precinct. All of the numbers, which are offered on a voluntary basis from businesses in Wynyard Quarter, are used to work out how efficient buildings in the area are and how to use the energy better.

Adam Beck: Eco-Districts and a new protocol for sustainable cities
AUSTRALIA – For two years Adam Beck, who previously ran the communities program for the Green Building Council of Australia, has been working with the EcoDistricts movement in Portland in the US. Now he’s about to bring this “code for new urban governance” and “new model for urban regeneration” to Australia. But what exactly is it, and how does it work? We asked Beck for a run down.

Food Systems

National data shows wheat farmers have improved water use efficiency by up to 100 per cent over three decades

Australian grain growers are up to twice as water efficient as they were 30 years ago, according to a national study. Data from the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC) has shown wheat farmers are producing more with less around the country. A comprehensive data map shows that between 1982 and 2012, many wheat growing regions have improved water use efficiency by between 50 and 100 per cent.

Your morning espresso could be about to get a lot more expensive
In the past, companies that dominate the global coffee business have managed their supply risk by diversifying their suppliers. Now a quarter of production in Brazil, the largest producer of high-quality Arabica coffee, is under direct threat from climate change, and rising temperatures are expected to undermine the commercial viability of Arabica coffee in many of the world’s coffee-growing regions. In the next two decades, this systemic failure across many regions will require companies to radically change their production models and sourcing relationships. Yes, the price of your favourite coffee will increase due to climate change, but there is hope that the risks involved will change the entire industry for the better.


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