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Thursday 13 October 2016

Sustainable Development News

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

Seaweed could hold the key to cutting methane emissions from cow burps
When Canadian farmer Joe Dorgan noticed about 11 years ago that cattle in a paddock by the sea were more productive than his other cows, he didn’t just rediscover an Ancient Greek and Icelandic practice.  While the Ancient Greeks didn’t have to contend with global warming, it turns out that this practice could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 21st-century livestock farming.

Energy and Climate Change

Queensland outlines plan to get 50% renewables, and it won’t cost consumers a cent
Queensland’s Renewable Energy Taskforce isn’t just confident 50 per cent renewables is possible by 2030, it also believes it will be “cost neutral” for Sunshine State consumers, according to its just-released draft report. The draft Credible Pathways to a 50 per cent Renewable Energy Target for Queensland report finds the state will need 4000-5500 megawatts of large-scale capacity between 2021-2030, and provides three post-2020 pathways to get it – a linear pathway of incremental renewable growth, a rapid pathway where most capacity will occur closer to 2030 to take advantage of cheaper prices, and a “Stronger National Action pathway”, where the federal government pulls its finger out to reduce electricity sector emissions.

See also:

6 takeaways from VERGE’s ‘Utility of the Future’ summit
Nearly 100 participants gathered to discuss and advance utilities’ role in tomorrow’s electricity grid amidst regulatory reform, distributed energy resource (DER) adoption and other market forces placing intense pressure on utility business as usual. Here are six themes that emerged from the workshop.

Environment and Biodiversity

How I discovered one of the greatest wildlife gatherings on Earth in far-north Queensland
Encountering a snake in the wild is many people’s worst nightmare. So imagine walking through the dense tropical forests of north Queensland and stumbling across an aggregation of 15 hungry snakes loitering beneath a giant canopy tree. You’re probably wondering why the snakes are there? The answer is that the tree above is laden with hundreds (sometimes thousands) of bird nests; a colony of metallic starlings (Aplonis metallica). And it’s not just snakes. For the past three years I have been studying these colonies as part of a PhD program at the University of Sydney. Our paper describing this remarkable ecological phenomenon has just been published in PLoS ONE. In a single year, I recorded more than 100,000 animals (representing 42 species) beneath starling colony trees.

Conventional wine growers move to more environmentally benign methods to manage weeds
NEW ZEALAND – Matt Oliver is constantly amazed by how many farmers continue to use the same management system without considering changes to benefit their business. For the past two years the Marlborough soil consultant has been running his own company, Biologic Soils, after 15 years working as a vineyard manager. He started the company to help growers manage their businesses to improve profitability and create distinctive ‘terroir’, or character, from the unique climate, soil and terrain of their vineyards.

For the first time, bees get added to US endangered species list
In a positive move for bees, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has added seven species of yellow-faced bees in Hawaii to the U.S. Endangered Species List… The seven species… are native only to Hawaii and inhabit diverse habitats such as coasts, dry forests, and subalpine shrublands. These bees pollinate a variety of native plant species, including some of Hawaii’s most endangered plant species, which could become extinct if the bees were wiped out.

Economy and Business

To build the future, change these ‘stone wheels on a Tesla’
… we need to turn our attention to what can be changed effective tomorrow: How we prioritize and fund infrastructure projects. Pick any civil engineer out of a lineup and they likely will tell you that each infrastructure proposal is already heavily vetted using an age-old technique called “cost-benefit analysis.” What they won’t tell you is just how expensive, opaque and myopic those exercises are, nor admit their miserable track record in attracting picky private or patient government investors.

A cost-benefit analysis of securing indigenous land rights in the Amazon
Indigenous leaders from Africa, Asia, and Latin America attended the UN climate talks in Paris last December to present research showing that traditional indigenous territories in the Amazon Basin, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Indonesia, and the Mesoamerican region comprise more than 20 percent of the carbon stored aboveground in Earth’s tropical forests. The indigenous leaders were in Paris to call for full legal title to their lands and an end to the criminalization of indigenous activists. They called legal measures to protect their right to traditional lands “the most affordable pathway for climate negotiators struggling to come up with solutions.”

Minding the gap between insurance and flood risk
Economist Michael Greenstone, who runs the Energy Policy Institute, argued last month in the New York Times that if insurance prices reflected risk, they could incentivize homeowners to undertake retrofits needed to protect their homes. The argument, which has been made by others, is that if insurance costs less for safer homes, homeowners will undertake protective measures to realize those savings. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are three reasons why risk-based insurance alone is not enough to solve our climate adaptation problems.

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals will need healthy competition and consumer protection too
This month, some 70 years after the United Nations first discussed “restrictive business practices”, international cooperation on competition issues will take another step forward when UNCTAD hosts the 15th session of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) on Competition Law and Policy in Geneva from 19 to 21 October. The meeting takes place at a time when the number of mergers and acquisitions mean some companies are controlling ever larger portions of their markets, making abuse of dominant market positions more likely. Some two-thirds of economic sectors were more concentrated in 2012 than in 1997, according to a recent article in The Economist.

Business Briefing: why the future is workless (Audio 13:12)
When Tim Dunlop, from the Centre for Advancing Journalism at the University of Melbourne, started to research the future of work, his economist friends pointed to all the research showing there will still be jobs. A few years later and Dunlop isn’t so sure. His book, “Why the Future is Workless”, unpicks the research into everything from machines learning to do our jobs to the idea of governments paying us all a universal basic income. Dunlop outlines three possible scenarios off the back of all this evidence but he is most convinced that the economy, as we know it, will change dramatically.

Investors warn car industry over climate change
Major investors have warned the automotive industry it needs to accelerate its readiness for a low-carbon world if it is to retain their support and prosper. Vehicle makers must put climate change specialists on their boards, engage better with policy-makers, and invest more heavily in low-emission cars, says a network of 250 global investors with assets of more than $24tn (£20tn). The demands come in a new report, Investor Expectations of Automotive Companies, published this week by the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change (IIGCC).

How Google is using big data to protect the environment
Google’s sustainability officer Kate Brandt outlines the company’s wide-range interest in sustainable fishing, green buildings and renewable energy.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Can an upcycling expert transform my junk?
Max McMurdo stands on the doorstep surrounded by toolboxes, neat as a pin. A professional upcycler, he has offered to convert my worst bits of household junk into brilliant new forms. It’s hardly surprising that he is smiling: upcycling is a form of recreational optimism. The whole pursuit is underpinned by the belief that no tat is too tatty. All junk can be saved.

Politics and Society

From Brexit to Colombia’s No vote: are constitutional democracies in crisis?
What do Colombia’s recent plebiscite and Brexit have in common? The surface similarities are clear: both referendums produced outcomes that few experts or citizens expected.  And many considered them a blow to core the social values of peace, integration, development and prosperity.  The unanticipated and widely debated results in Colombia and Great Britain – indeed, the very decision to use the mechanism of popular consultation to identify the citizenry’s will – obliges us to reflect on the future of democratic systems.

Challenge Your Boss to an ‘Edge Pledge’ to Fight Extinction
Who wouldn’t want to dare their boss to a challenge that would put them ‘on the edge’? Perhaps seeing them sky dive, or getting a diamond nose piercing? Or even wearing a crazy costume to a company conference? Now there is a way you can legitimately and safely (e.g. keep your chances of a promotion) challenge your boss to do something outrageous and at the same time save wildlife on the edge of extinction.

Land sustainability team there to help farmers
NEW ZEALAND – Farmers may have seen them out in their trucks and quad bikes or even had a chat with them on the phone – but what does Environment Southland’s Land Sustainability team actually do? The small team, led by manager Nathan Cruickshank, of eight field officers, as well as a couple of office-based staff is working to increase awareness of land management issues and good environmental practices.

Baird backflips on sharks a day after dogs
AUSTRALIA – Mike Baird has performed a second policy backflip in as many days, announcing he will pursue a six-month trial of shark nets along NSW’s north coast after another shark attack. After resisting calls to install nets, which kill other marine life, the premier announced the policy change on Wednesday, a day after he reversed a ban on greyhound racing.

Food Systems

Airbus to marshal its satellites against deforestation
One of the world’s largest aerospace companies is enlisting its satellites in the fight to save forests. That’s the aim of Starling, a new service developed by Airbus Defence and Space, nonprofit The Forest Trust (TFT) and remote-sensing specialist SarVision. Food giants Nestlé and Ferrero, two of the top users of palm oil — a ubiquitious commodity whose production has fueled economic growth but also deforestation in countries like Indonesia — hope Starling will help them clean up their vast supply networks. The two multinationals announced on Monday they would pilot the service before it hits the market in early 2017.

Africa remains a target as Global South ‘land rush’ moves to production
In 2007, a spike in commodity prices triggered a sudden increase in demand for agricultural land across the world…  Now, almost ten years after the term “land grabbing” first entered the popular imagination, large-scale land acquisitions remain shrouded in secrecy.  The Land Matrix Initiative aims to shine some light in the deals by providing open access to information on intended, concluded, and failed land acquisitions that have taken place since the year 2000. Over recent years, both the quality and the quantity of the data have improved considerably.  This led us to take a fresh look at the current trends in international large-scale land acquisitions.

MSC Continues to Make Waves: Sustainable Wild-Catch Grows to 10% of Global Market
Sustainable fishing practices are having lasting impact on fish stocks and marine ecosystems, in part due to successful voluntary certification schemes such as that of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). The organization’s latest Annual Report, released today, highlights growth in MSC-certified fisheries and supply chain.

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