Sustainable Development News

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

Many fear the worst for humanity, so how do we avoid surrendering to an apocalyptic fate?
A new, four-nation study has found people rate the risks of global threats to humanity surprisingly high. These perceptions are likely to be important, socially and politically, in shaping how humanity responds to the threats… The study also asked people about different responses to the threats. These responses were categorised as nihilism (the loss of belief in a social or moral order; decadence rules), fundamentalism (the retreat to certain belief; dogma rules), or activism (the transformation of belief; hope rules).

Energy and Climate Change

Draft Paris agreement shows many countries still pushing for <1.5oC
Earlier last week the co-chairs of the process to the Paris climate summit released the draft agreement and draft decisions for the outcomes of the meeting… While critical details remain to be resolved, the draft texts highlight that the contours of the Paris agreement are becoming increasingly clear. The inevitable trend to stronger action is embedded in the draft agreement with countries needing to progressively strengthen action through time.

New IPCC chief calls for fresh focus on climate solutions, not problems
The new leader of the world’s most authoritative climate science body has declared it’s time researchers shifted away from tracking the impacts of climate change – and focused instead on finding solutions. In his first interview since taking charge of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Hoesung Lee announced a major change in direction for the organisation’s exhaustive science reports.

Blocked NSW climate report backed big emission cuts, warned of extreme weather
Australia risks being left with “stranded” fossil fuel assets and missing out on investment in new technologies if the country’s climate change actions are less ambitious than other nations, according to a report blocked by the Baird government. The report was prepared by the Office of Environment as NSW’s submission to a Federal Government inquiry into what Australia’s post-2020 carbon cutting target should be. It did not make it past Premier Mike Baird’s office but was obtained by Fairfax Media under freedom of information laws.

The Americas stand out in solid Q3 for clean energy investment
Worldwide investment in renewable energy and energy-smart technologies totalled $70bn in the third quarter of 2015, just 1% below the equivalent figure a year earlier, according to the latest authoritative data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.  The largest projects to be financed in Q3 this year included solar thermal electricity generation, or CSP, plants in China, Israel and South Africa, and four offshore wind farms in Chinese waters – the first real wave of sea-based wind projects to get the go-ahead outside that technology’s original market, Europe.  However, the countries enjoying the biggest-percentage gains in investment in the third quarter of 2015 compared to Q3 2014 were mostly in the Americas.

Wind and solar boost cost-competitiveness versus fossil fuels
This year has brought a significant shift in the generating cost comparison between renewable energy and fossil fuels, according to detailed analysis by technology and region, published this week by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The research company’s Levelised Cost of Electricity Update for the second half of 2015, based on thousands of data points related to individual deals and projects around the world, shows that onshore wind and crystalline silicon photovoltaics – the two most widespread renewable technologies – have both reduced costs this year, while costs have gone up for gas-fired and coal-fired generation.

UK leads G20 nations on low-carbon growth
The UK has broken records for national low-carbon growth and the country now tops PwC’s G20 Low Carbon Economy Index, but energy experts warn the results are largely due to “circumstance rather than policy”.  According to analysis from PwC, the UK has seen 10.9% year-on-year declines in emissions from energy use – the highest reduction ever reported by PwC analysts in the past seven years. The main reason for the fall was a reduction in coal consumption of around 20%, due in part to the closure of a number pf coal-fired power stations. Strong economic growth and a warmer winter were among the other factors.

LNG projects go from bonanza to break-even
It was supposed to be the next wave of Australia’s resources boom, but the turbo-charged profits once hoped for from Australia’s liquefied natural gas bounty are quickly being scaled back, thanks to a plummeting oil price.

China mulls new coal curbs that would limit emissions but dent commodity demand
China is considering aggressive new curbs on coal consumption as it accelerates efforts to transform its economy and tackle climate change, moves that would hurt Australia’s export revenue and place new mines in doubt. A mandatory nationwide cap on coal use is among the likely initiatives to be unveiled in the Communist Party’s 13th five-year plan, a key economic planning blueprint slated for release next year, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Alaska mulls extra oil drilling to cope with climate change
Expanding the search for oil is necessary to pay for the damage caused by climate change, the Governor of Alaska has told the BBC. The state is suffering significant climate impacts from rising seas forcing the relocation of remote villages.  Governor Bill Walker says that coping with these changes is hugely expensive. He wants to “urgently” drill in the protected lands of the Arctic National Wilderness Refuge to fund them.

Antarctic ice is melting so fast the whole continent may be at risk by 2100
Antarctic ice is melting so fast that the stability of the whole continent could be at risk by 2100, scientists have warned. Widespread collapse of Antarctic ice shelves – floating extensions of land ice projecting into the sea – could pave the way for dramatic rises in sea level. The new research predicts a doubling of surface melting of the ice shelves by 2050. By the end of the century, the melting rate could surpass the point associated with ice shelf collapse, it is claimed.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Millions wiped off UK local government pensions due to coal crash, analysis shows
The pension funds of millions of local government workers have lost hundreds of millions of pounds in the last 18 months, as the value of the world’s biggest coal mining companies has crashed, according to a new analysis. The Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) provides pensions for 4.6m people, including social workers, school staff, bus drivers, librarians, park attendants and housing officers. The losses estimated by campaign group Platform are equivalent to hundreds of pounds per member.

Environment and Biodiversity

The oceans are becoming too hot for coral, and sooner than we expected
This week, scientists registered their concern that super-warm conditions are building to a point where corals are severely threatened across the tropical Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans. They did so after seeing corals lose colour across the three major ocean basins – a sign of a truly momentous global change. This is only the third global bleaching event in recorded history.

Coral reefs are not just pretty – they are vital to life
We need our oceans, and our oceans need corals. But it’s not going well for them. Last week, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in the US announced that extremely hot oceans have triggered a global bleaching event spanning the tropical Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. Corals around the world are under a lot of stress. And we should care. Corals are about much more than brightly coloured backdrops of tropical snorkelling holidays or the stage of films about cute little fish that need to be found (that’ll be Nemo, for those without children). Corals are vital to ocean ecosystems.

10 climate change canaries
Climate change is predicted to transform New Zealand forever, bringing high sea levels, hotter days, and more extreme weather. As our environment begins to shift, can we take early cues from the species around us? Science reporter Jamie Morton looks at 10 examples.

‘Death by a thousand cuts’: NZ’s oil spill record revealed
Almost four tonnes of oil has spilled into New Zealand’s harbours and oceans since the Rena disaster.  Since the Rena ran aground on Astrolabe Reef off Mt Maunganui in October, 2011, spilling 350 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, a further 363 spill-related incidents have been recorded, a figure a leading marine biologist describes as “very sobering”.  While most of the spills have been relatively small – ranging from a few millilitres to several thousand litres – Professor Chris Battershill of Waikato University likened it to “death by a thousand cuts” and said there was need for heightened vigilance.

Cartoon - nature makes you smile

Author releases children’s book for Save Kiwi Month
She’s safeguarded 13 kiwi birds for a year, and shows no signs of slowing down. Te Awamutu author and illustrator Kat Merewether has released her second book, Kuwi’s Huhu Hunt, dedicated to our national bird, with a portion of sales going to save kiwi from extinction. October is Save Kiwi Month, the national campaign led by independent charity Kiwis for Kiwi, which supports kiwi conservation projects. Every $100 raised is enough to protect a kiwi for a year, Kiwis for Kiwi charity director Michelle Impey said…  During October, $1 from Kuwi’s First Hunt and Kuwi’s First Egg will go to Kiwis for Kiwi. Both books are available at Paper Plus and Whitcoulls.

Bats granted additional funding
As New Zealand’s only native land mammals, the bats of the South Island are scheduled to receive additional funding from the Conservation Community Partnership Fund… Two species of bats live at Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve, the short-tailed and long-tailed bats. The declining population of these bats is a result of non-native mammals that were brought to New Zealand by humans, such as rats, stoats, and cats.

12 of Our Favorite Wolf Photos

Intelligent and highly social, wolves fascinate us as the untamed predecessors to Man’s Best Friend. But the relationship between humans and wolves has not always been so reverential, especially in the United States. Through the early 1900s, populations of Canis lupus, the gray wolf, shrank from estimated historical highs of 2 million to near-extinction in the lower 48 states, largely a result of expanded human settlement in the western U.S. and large-scale poisonings meant to protect livestock. In 1973, the gray wolf was classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, and after decades of conservation efforts, wolves are doing well in the U.S.


Making Strides Gray wolves (Canis lupus) run through fresh snow in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. The gray wolf was nearly poisoned to extinction in the contiguous U.S., but conservation efforts have grown the population to about 5,500 wolves.

Making Strides Gray wolves (Canis lupus) run through fresh snow in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. The gray wolf was nearly poisoned to extinction in the contiguous U.S., but conservation efforts have grown the population to about 5,500 wolves.
Photograph by Jeff Vanuga, National Geographic Creative


As drought looms again, Australians are ready to embrace recycled water
Concerns about drought and water supply are once more building in eastern Australia… When drought strikes, people and governments look to shore up water supplies. In Australia, politicians have focused on building more dams and long pipelines, at the expense of alternative sources such as recycled water. It has been widely assumed that drinking recycled water, from sources such as sewage, is not acceptable to the public. But an Australia-first survey released by the Australian Water Association shows the public is ready to accept recycled water.

Economy and Business

New tool helps companies assess financial risks from not being sustainable
A tool has been launched by Anthesis Group that will help businesses assess and monetise risks to them against a range of sustainability indicators. Along with its delivery partner Acclimatise, Anthesis has developed RiskHorizon to help users understand, evaluate, monetise and take action on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) and sustainability risks. The tool enables users to screen 30 political, economic, social and environmental risks.

If we want a low-carbon future to happen, we should look to Silicon Valley
Do you really believe? I’m not asking if you ‘believe’ in climate change – thankfully that question has been delegated to the world of trolls. I mean, do you believe we can build a low-carbon economy in which 9 billion people thrive? That’s a much harder question for many of us. But until we all answer with a resounding ‘yes!’ we won’t move far or fast enough. That low carbon transition requires mass re-engineering of our global infrastructure, economic systems and even our personal behaviours. The scale of revolution is admittedly hard to imagine, until you remember that we’ve already lived through one…

Development banks to deliver $51bn annual climate finance
Two of the world’s largest development banks have unveiled separate commitments to boost climate-related financing by up to a third.  The World Bank announced over the weekend that it would boost funding for poorer nations coping with climate change from 21% to 28% of its budget, while the European Investment Bank (EIB) will increase its climate support from 25% to 35%.

Christchurch water meter company adds a bolt on firm
NEW ZEALAND – The accurate measurement of water usage on farms is vital to expansion in the agricultural sector, data collection specialist DataCol Group says… National water regulations meant there was a greater need to measuring and record water use under consents. Part of that drive was to limit the amount of nitrate leaching into waterways. Keith Woodford, an independent consultant, said there was a general move to precision farming in New Zealand and less wasteful irrigation was a core part of that.

This Tiny Countertop Dishwasher Uses A Tiny Bit Of Water—And No Electricity
It’s counterintuitive—because more often than not, the technological solution is worse than the analog one—but washing dishes by hand actually uses around twice as much energy, and way more water, than the most efficient dishwashers on the market. And this tiny new dishwasher prototype uses even less water, and no electricity at all.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Google Is Planning For A Zero-Waste, Circular Economy
The current economy is built on waste—dig up some materials, turn that into a product, ship it to an “end user” who eventually tosses it in the trash. But that’s starting to change. Google is one of the latest mega-corporations to commit to the principles of a circular economy—one that keeps “technical nutrients” like plastic and silicon out of the landfill, and trims out wasted water, energy, food, and land. “Our goal is to embed circular economic principles into the fabric of Google’s infrastructure, operations, and culture,” says Kate Brandt, Google’s sustainability lead. “What that means is that we’ll be focusing on opportunities wherever possible to eradicate waste through smart design—at our data centers, in our kitchens, on our campuses, in all we do around the world.”

Tesco turning its back of store waste into closed loop plastic carrier bags
New closed loop plastics carrier bags have appeared in Tesco stores that have been created from back of store waste. Tesco has been working with Eurokey Recycling to take pallet and multi-pack wrapping into a second life product made by Papier-Mettler. The carrier bags are made from 100% recycled LDPE with 80% of the material being post-consumer waste, and the remaining 20% from Tesco’s production process on site.

Politics and Society

India’s climate tech revolution is starting in its villages
Camels pulling wooden carts loaded with coconuts plod down the main road amid speeding motorcycles, buses, rickshaws and cars. Farmers sit atop slow-moving oxcarts loaded with grasses and other cattle feed. In this region of central Gujarat, India, it appears that rural life has not changed for decades. But drive down a dirt road outside the village of Thamna, about an hour north of Anand, and the 21st century comes into view. Solar panels drive a water pump that irrigates the fields of farmer Raman Bhai Parmar, 65, who grows bananas, rice and wheat on seven acres of land.

The amazing Thula Thula baby elephant rescue
By the time Friday rushed in, seven days had flown passed since I’d started my assignment at Thula Thula Game Reserve in South Africa… Not long after my arrival, Francoise Malby-Anthony, Lawrence’s wife and charismatic owner of Thula Thula, had mentioned to me in conversation that it had been a long time since the elephants had visited the area surrounding the safari lodge, so I was surprised to hear trumpeting when I was drifting off to sleep at about a quarter to midnight.

Waikato University selected as sustainability awards finalist
NEW ZEALAND – The University of Waikato has been selected as a finalist in the 2015 Green Gown Awards Australasia for “GoingGreen@Waikato”. The programme is in the running for the Continuous Improvement-Institutional Change category. University of Waikato Environmental and Sustainability Manager Rachael Goddard says the awards are recognition of the sustainability successes that universities and polytechnics have achieved.

Victorian farmer stopped from removing native trees as community fights to protect ‘beauty point for town’
AUSTRALIA – A small community in western Victoria has successfully stopped a farmer from removing native trees on his land, in a unique case based on protecting amenity. Farmer Stephen Rich had applied to remove 34 black box trees from his Kaniva property, which features about 120 of the native trees, on the basis they were expensive barriers for his cropping operations

Built Environment

Resilient cities, partnerships: A conversation with Citi’s Mark Paris
For all the talk about green, sustainable, carbon-neutral, smart and resilient cities — and all of the cities that are pursuing one or more of these laudable goals — it’s far easier said than done. It takes money, of course, along with the breaking down of silos and sectors, to turn aspirations into action and results. It takes technologies, everything from open data to integrated transportation systems to next-gen infrastructure embedded with sensors and intelligence. It also takes new kinds of partnerships and collaboration between the public and private sectors. That can be where the process breaks down.

Meet The Electric Bus That Could Push Every Other Polluting Bus Off The Road
Electric cars might be sexier. But Ryan Popple, who was an early employee at Tesla, is now convinced that electric buses are more interesting. Proterra, the startup Popple runs, designed a sleek new electric bus that drove 258 miles on a single charge in a recent test. That’s farther than most tiny electric cars can go and also farther than a daily city bus route. That means it’s ready to start to replace the hundreds of thousands of diesel buses in the country, most of which average less than five miles to the gallon and pump out carbon pollution, soot, and carcinogens like arsenic.

Food Systems

Resting land is a myth in grazing, holistic management expert says
AUSTRALIA – The accepted logic of ‘resting land’ is one of the biggest myths in grazing, according to a holistic management expert. Inside Outside Management director Brian Wehlburg spoke to a group of cattle graziers at a Reef Catchment event in Proserpine. He said while it was important to let grasses on a property recover, the idea that the land itself needed to be rested was untrue.

M&S steps up waste crackdown with national surplus food redistribution network
UK – Marks and Spencer will today launch a major new national surplus food redistribution scheme, in a bid to curb food waste levels and support charities across the UK. Food charities interested in participating the scheme can register their interest online from today, as M&S attempts to secure partners for the initial phase of the initiative. The retail giant said that from December 150 of its biggest stores would be ready to redistribute surplus food to approved charities. The rest of its stores are then expected to join the scheme from spring next year.


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