Sustainable Development News

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

Insurance Companies Unwittingly Aid Marine Poaching
Last spring, the Thunder, an alleged poaching vessel, met its end off the coast of São Tomé and sunk to its watery grave. The Thunder was allegedly part of an armada of fishing scallywags that cumulatively siphon billions of dollars a year from the global fishing economy and wreak untold damage on fisheries around the world. Now, recently released research suggests that, despite their nefarious intentions, many of these illegal vessels are still covered by marine insurance.

Energy and Climate Change

New technology offers hope for storing carbon dioxide underground
To halt climate change and prevent dangerous warming, we ultimately have to stop pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. While the world is making slow progress on reducing emissions, there are more radical options, such as removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and storing them underground. In a paper published today in Science my colleagues and I report on a successful trial converting carbon dioxide (CO₂) to rock and storing it underground in Iceland. Although we trialled only a small amount of CO₂, this method has enormous potential. Here’s how it works.

Sydney storm: Lessons from a tempest
The damage wrought by the Sydney storm has provided us with a reality check. But where do we go from here? And where else is at risk?

Environment and Biodiversity

AskNature: How do you make energy?
Here’s a light bulb idea: how does nature make energy? For the billions of species that have existed on planet earth, humans are the only ones who have placed such a premium on unsustainable and non-local sources of energy. How then, does nature balance its energy books while producing relatively little energy waste?  This [biomimicry] collection explores how nature has discovered brilliant ways to do just that. How does nature efficiently harness the sun’s energy for its own needs? How do living systems pack a big punch with little energetic cost? Does nature apply efficient chemical processes that produce energy and create inert waste products? Looking to nature to solve some of our most pressing energy issues is the next logical step.

Rangers Use Artificial Intelligence to Fight Poachers
Poachers kill an estimated 96 African elephants every day, causing conservationists to warn that the iconic animals could disappear in our lifetime if the tide doesn’t turn. But now scientists hope a new artificial intelligence (AI) tool could help wildlife officials get a leg up against poachers.  PAWS, which stands for Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security, is a newly developed AI that takes data about previous poaching activities and outputs routes for patrols based on where poaching is likely to occur. These routes are also randomized to keep poachers from learning patrol patterns. Using machine learning, a branch of AI, PAWS can continually find new insights as more data is added.

We know why bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, but how does this actually happen?
Antibiotic resistance has the potential to affect everyone. Most people would have heard about antibiotic resistance and studies show many are aware the cause of the current crisis is due to their overuse. But few know how and where the resistance occurs. A recent study revealed 88% of people think antibiotic resistance occurs when the human body becomes resistant to antibiotics. This isn’t entirely true. The resistance can happen inside our body as it is the host environment for the bacteria; but the important distinction is that the body’s immune system doesn’t change – it’s the bacteria in our bodies that change.

Many commitments, little transparency in cutting deforestation from corporate supply chains
Forest Trends found “notable progress” has been made to cut deforestation out of global commodities supply chains, but has issued a report that highlights a number of trends that the group says are cause for concern as they demonstrate the current limitations of voluntary commodity commitments.

Economy and Business

5 of the coolest climate solutions that exist today
Systemic climate risks looming over cities, businesses and people everywhere may finally be starting to register, based on the laundry list of budding solutions laid out in a new report by Copenhagen-based think tank Sustainia. The annual “Sustainia 100” spotlights climate solutions that stand to have an impact across sectors: food, buildings, energy, transportation, education and others.

More than half of jobs in UK solar industry lost in wake of subsidy cuts
The solar power industry says it has seen the loss of more than half its 35,000 jobs due to recent changes in government energy policy, just at a time when solar power has eclipsed coal as a major generator of Britain’s electricity. Experts believe ministers had cut subsidies too far and too fast, praising the “seismic”, record-breaking growth of solar in recent years.

Vulnerable and exploited: 7 things we learned about migrant labour in palm oil
Palm oil makes its way from the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia (and increasingly Africa and Latin America) into 50% of what we buy, from toothpaste to margarine. Linked to deforestation, habitat loss, fires and the displacement of communities, the production of palm oil has raised major concerns to date.  The palm oil industry is also a huge user of migrant labour, which bring problems of exploitation and discrimination. Here’s what we learned in a recent expert live chat on palm oil and migration.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Business, NGO Leaders Stress the Need for the Circular Economy in New Short Film
A new 18-minute documentary film, Circularity: Preparing for the New Economy, calls for a radical overhaul of current economic systems. Featuring commentary from a number of business analysts, the film provides an overview of what the “circular economy” is and the opportunities for growth that it presents.

Payout dampens sales but not interest in effluent recycling system
NEW ZEALAND – A year ago, Forsi​ Innovations unveiled at Fieldays an effluent recycling system it believed could revolutionise dairy farming. The machine turned raw dairy effluent into clean, clear water and would change current farming practices by eliminating the need for effluent ponds, help farmers remain compliant and reduce waterway contamination.

Blood sucking, transparent, recyclable trays the future at New World
NEW ZEALAND – There’s a new technology in town that’s brightening up the meat aisle of your local supermarket and reducing waste at the landfill. The days of the black, polystyrene meat tray are numbered at Hamilton’s New World Hillcrest with the roll out of a new blood sapping, plastic recyclable trays. Clear trays for red meat and blue trays for chicken have lined about 80 per cent of the fridge the shelves since Monday.

Politics and Society

How is Indonesian president Jokowi doing on environmental issues?
In 2014, Joko Widodo became Indonesia’s first head of state to emerge from neither the political elite nor the military. The election of the former furniture salesman to the nation’s highest office represented a break from its authoritarian past, and Jokowi, as he is known, was expected to enact major reforms. He promised to eradicate corruption, overhaul the bureaucracy, upgrade the infrastructure, facilitate investment, boost economic growth, lead a “mental revolution” and resolve past human rights violations. And more. Last year, it was the environment that served up what will perhaps be remembered as the defining challenge of Jokowi’s presidency. The devastating forest and peatland fires of 2015 burned an area the size of Macedonia, sickened half a million people, pumped an incredible amount of carbon into the atmosphere and, according to the World Bank, cost the country $16 billion.

Election FactCheck: is it true no solely managed Commonwealth fishery is subject to overfishing?
AUSTRALIA – “Monitoring of our fisheries’ health has demonstrated that no solely-managed Commonwealth fishery is subject to overfishing” – Senator Anne Ruston, Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, media release, June 4, 2016. Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Anne Ruston said no solely-managed Commonwealth fishery is subject to overfishing. Is she correct?

Built Environment

No cars, no problem? Imagining a sustainable city (Book Excerpt)
Describing a sustainable city is no easy task. Cities differ in geography, climate, culture, history, wealth and a host of other dimensions, each of which precludes any possibility of a one-size-fits-all approach to urban sustainability. A sustainable Riyadh will look and operate differently from a sustainable Reykjavik because of their disparate climates, among other distinctions. In addition, no mature models of urban sustainability are available today, anywhere on the planet. And even at the definitional level, there is little agreement about what constitutes a sustainable city. Although many of the necessary technologies and policies are well known, recipes for creating a fully sustainable city have not been developed, much less implemented.

Christchurch’s award-winning copper buildings deadly to river life
NEW ZEALAND – Pretty but poisonous – the shiny metal facades so admired in the Christchurch rebuild have been reclassified as an environmental pest. Water run-off from copper, zinc and other unsealed metal claddings has been found to kill fish and other aquatic life. Recent research from Canterbury University students has revealed dangerous levels of copper in the Avon River near copper-clad buildings.

How environmentally friendly is your cruise holiday?
An estimated 24 million passengers are expected to cruise the world’s oceans in more than 220 cruise ships this year, up from 19.1 million in 2010. But these giant floating playgrounds leave an enormous environmental impact… Foe’s report card, the sixth from the US nonprofit, assigned 17 cruise lines and their 171 ships a grade between A and F in four categories: sewage treatment, water quality, air pollution reduction and transparency.


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