Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world. If you like what you see, you are welcome to sign up (on the right) for free sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning. 

Energy and Climate Change

Auctions mark beginning of Abbott government’s emissions reduction fund
Farmers and landfill owners are expected to dominate the first auctions under the Abbott government’s much-criticised $2.55 billion plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which will be held this week. The initial auctions will occur on Wednesday and Thursday and mark the beginning of the Abbott government’s emissions reduction fund, its replacement for the carbon tax, which it dumped.  Under the auctions, companies and individuals will bid in projects to cut carbon dioxide emissions, also nominating how much they expect to be paid for each tonne they save. The government’s Clean Energy Regulator will choose successful projects based on the cheapest prices and a ceiling rate it will set, with the results to be released next week. Many existing projects that saved CO2 from landfills and the land – such as avoiding clearing native vegetation on farms – had been left stranded without any revenue when the carbon tax was repealed.

Gas fades to black as demand forecasts plummet
AUSTRALIA – If you blinked, you probably missed it. The Golden Age of gas – which would usher in the transition from high polluting fossil fuels to clean renewables – is over. Probably before it even started. The latest data from the Australian Energy Market Operator highlights just how quickly energy markets can change, and just how quickly they are changing. Gas, the “clean fuel” whose demand was tipped to soar in a world intent on decarbonisation, is now no longer wanted. In the state of NSW, demand in 2019 is now expected to be 17 per cent below previous forecasts.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Harvard divestment campaigners gear up for a week of action
Campaigners at Harvard University are beginning a week of direct action on campus to increase pressure on the institution to divest from fossil fuels. It comes as a new analysis suggests that the world’s richest university would have been $21m (£14m) better off without fossil fuel investments in the period since the divestment campaign began in August 2012. The university has refused calls to divest, saying its responsibility is to generate a healthy financial return for its $36bn endowment. Organisers expect that hundreds of students, staff and alumni will engage in acts of civil disobedience, as part of ‘Harvard Heat Week’, with dozens reported willing to risk arrest. Members of the local community and student divestment activists from other universities have also been invited to attend.

Environment and Biodiversity

China moves in for the krill
China has declared plans for an unprecedented expansion of fishing for Antarctic krill, the crustacean at the heart of the polar food web. To make use of what China’s state-owned agricultural development enterprise says are global protein riches, the country plans a seven-fold expansion in the annual catch, to the alarm of environmentalists. Krill underpin the survival of Antarctic marine life including whales, seals, penguins, seabirds and fish. Reported in the China Daily, the proposed expansion would test the strength of the Australian-based organisation managing Antarctic fisheries.

[Ed: Important: Krill is often used for its oil in fish oil supplements.  See the Food Systems section below for an article regarding recent research on the efficacy of fish oil supplements.]

Thermal imaging may save Hauraki Gulf whales
NEW ZEALAND – A scientific study has shown thermal imaging technology could prevent ships hitting whales in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. The research, led by Martin Stanley of Ocean Life Survey, proved that the heat put out by Bryde’s whales could be used to spot them at distances that would allow commercial vessels to avoid collisions. “We can detect the whales by the heat of their own bodies and breath,” Stanley said. Ship-strike is the greatest known cause of death for Bryde’s whales in the Hauraki Gulf. Between 2006 and 2014, 16 were killed by commercial shipping.

Economy and Business

Fossil fuel subsidies tempt us to burn more carbon, says World Bank chief
Poor countries are feeling the boot of climate change on their neck, the president of the World Bank has said, as he called for a carbon tax and the immediate scrapping of subsidies for fossil fuels to hold back global warming. Jim Yong Kim said awareness of the impact of extreme weather events that have been linked to rising temperatures was more marked in developing nations than in rich western countries, and backed for the adoption of a five-point plan to deliver low-carbon growth.

In-flight refuelling for airliners will see non-stop services shrink the globe
There’s real pressure on the aviation industry to introduce faster, cheaper and greener aircraft, while maintaining the high safety standards demanded of airlines worldwide. The obvious approach to tackling this problem is to extend and enlarge airport runways and terminals – such as the long-proposed third runway at London Heathrow. However there may be other less conventional alternatives, such as introducing in-flight refuelling for civil aircraft on key long-haul routes. Our project, Research on a Cruiser-Enabled Air Transport Environment (Recreate), began in 2011 to evaluate whether this was something that could prove a viable, and far cheaper, solution.

Politics and Society

Human rights, rule of law vital for sustainable development, Ban tells UN Crime Congress
Kicking off the 13th United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice in Doha, Qatar, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon along with several other top UN officials today spotlighted the critical connection between rule of law and sustainable development. “All societies need fair criminal justice systems, effective, accountable institutions, and access to justice for all,” Mr. Ban said in his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the Crime Congress.

Obama is right – we must protect young people from gay conversion ‘therapies’
For the first time, US President Barack Obama has condemned “conversion therapy” for LGBT youth. As White House adviser Valerie Jarrett wrote: “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.” While the statement did not explicitly call for congressional legislation to ban such therapies nationwide, LGBT activists have received it warmly – and rightly so. Gay conversion therapies have been medically frowned upon for a long time. Major mental health professional bodies such as the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association have denounced such therapies as unethical and unsupported by scientific evidence.

The cause for sustainable nappies
NEW ZEALAND – This Anzac Day, the Nappy Lady, Kate Meads, will set out on a 3,628km road trip from Tauranga to Invercargill and back up to Auckland. Her mission is to spread recognition of Cloth Nappy Week 2015, which aims to promote the benefits of sustainable living. “Cloth nappies are good for the planet and even better for your wallet,” says Ms Meads. “Switching from disposable to cloth nappies can save parents $4000 per child, which makes a big difference to the family budget.”

Tougher water rules needed, says scientist
NEW ZEALAND – Weak nitrate limits in Canterbury rivers will cause algal blooms, destroy habitats and kill fish, an ecologist says. In an e-book published online, Squandered – The Degradation of New Zealand’s Freshwaters, Massey University senior lecturer of environmental science and ecology Dr Mike Joy details “an unprecedented and mostly hidden environmental crisis”. The Government’s new bottom line for nitrate in rivers was a tenfold weakening of previous limits, and limits being set as part of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) were not tough enough, Joy said.

North Shore river runs red
A stream that turned red due to waterblasting on a nearby property highlights a common water pollution problem, says Auckland Council. Birkenhead resident Philip Jones contacted the council after finding the Mid Eskdale Stream, at the boundary between Birkenhead and Birkdale, had turned completely red. Council’s pollution control team traced the problem back to the waterblasting of a red coloured roof. Jones says eels, kokopu and other native fish live in the stream. “It is unclear what impact to aquatic life the discharge will have caused but it may well have been significant as the waterblasting activity went on for many hours,” he said.

[Ed: Lesson here: please don’t let any additives into your stormwater drains, this includes the common practice of washing your car in your driveway. Don’t do it.  While eco-friendly products biodegrade, they are still not good for aquatic life, contributing to eutrophication.]

Built Environment

Do more roads really mean less congestion for commuters?
A recent study in the United States identified Los Angeles, Honolulu and San Francisco as the top three most gridlocked cities in the United States. All of these cities use almost exclusively road-based solutions to transport citizens. While China has increased its expressway network from 16,300 km in the year 2000 to around 70,000 km in 2010, the average commute time in Beijing for 2013 was 1 hour and 55 minutes, up 25 minutes from just the year before. Why, then, do residents of these cities with large amounts of road capacity, not live in a driving utopia?

China is helping London’s famous black cabs go green – here’s how
It’s the most famous taxi in the world and a British icon, rivalling the Queen and red pillar boxes for global recognition. Now there’s a battle to make London’s black cabs greener. Geely, the Chinese automaker that owns the London Taxi Company, is investing £250m in a zero-emission capable version of the world-famous black cab to be built in Coventry. British firm Metrocab based in nearby Tamworth has also developed an eco-friendly version of the London cab. Meanwhile Shenzen-based BYD has signed a deal to provide electric cars for London chauffeuring firm Thriev.

Tesla chooses site of first renewable super-chargers in Goulburn
AUSTRALIA – Electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors has unveiled the first location of its regional super-charging network in Australia, with the announcement that eight renewable energy-powered supercharging booths will be installed at the Goulburn Visitor’s Centre. The confirmation of the Goulburn address is the first in what is expected to a country-wide network of super-charging stations, which will add around 270kms to the range of the Tesla S, for no charge, and in just 30 minutes. The first stages of the network – connecting Melbourne with Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast – were unveiled last year. Albury Wodonga is also a confirmed site, although the exact details have not been released.

ARENA to fund green building R&D
AUSTRALIA – Integration of renewable energy into buildings or building materials will be one of the key focus areas of new funding announced by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency for industry-partnered projects seeking to develop and commercialise renewable energy technologies.  The $20 million in funding is part of the second round of ARENA’s R&D program, which aims to enable renewable energy technologies to become competitive with traditional energy sources, with successful projects expected to receive between $500,000 and $5 million in support.

Food Systems

Australian researchers surprised to find fish oil not protective against heart disease
Australian researchers have been surprised to find that fish oil supplements do not protect against heart disease with the evidence suggesting that eating fish is of greater benefit to the heart. The study, which has been published in the Heart, Lung and Circulation Journal, has prompted the National Heart Foundation to revise its guidelines on fish and fish oil.

Is it fair to blame almond farmers for California’s drought?
There are a lot of great villains in the story of California’s water woes. But the biggest villain this year has been the state’s almond growers, accused of gobbling up land and water, replacing more water-efficient crops like lettuce and strawberries with higher value almond crops, and taking more than their fair share of the state’s water.

How much do you know about your nuts?
They are three of the most popular nuts in the world, but how much do you know about cashews, almonds and hazelnuts? Find out more in our interactive.

Warmer seas ‘will change British diet’
Warming seas will push traditional fish favourites off the British menu, a study suggests. Fish such as haddock, plaice and lemon sole will decline as the North Sea warms by a predicted 1.8 degrees over 50 years, say scientists. But other species such as John Dory and red mullet will shift their range into UK waters, according to modelling work. Consumers wishing to eat locally-caught fish will need to change their diet, say University of Exeter researchers. The classic fish and chips enjoyed by previous generations could be replaced by the likes of sardines and squid, according to a study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Salmon farming fish waste impact on waterways falls by 15pc, Tasmanian producer Tassal finds
The environmental impact of salmon waste in natural waterways has declined 15 per cent, according to a new report from Tasmanian producer Tassal. The Tasmanian salmon industry is under the spotlight, with a Senate committee investigating the environmental impacts of the sector. The industry has been under pressure from mussel and abalone businesses, which claim salmon farms are creating too much waste and killing natural waterways. In its fourth sustainability report Tassal said the amount of eutrophication, or impact from salmon waste, measured in the water had fallen by 15 per cent since 2012.


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