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

New UN rules put the spotlight on climate laggards to lift their game
Analysts have long argued that making upfront, transparent pledges can limit the temptation for countries to free ride on the back of other nations’ efforts. Most countries announced their climate pledges for 2020 in the months after the 2009 Copenhagen summit. This time around, the UN has called on countries to announce their post-2020 pledges (called “intended nationally determined contributions”, or INDCs) before the Paris summit. Calling on countries to put their cards on the table seems like a good way of encouraging fair play in Paris. But will the promise of greater transparency have the desired outcome, particularly if the UN lacks the legal clout to coerce laggard countries to lift their game?

Rich nations’ climate plans, including Australia’s, fall short of Paris hopes
Developed nations are on track to cut their greenhouse emissions by almost 30 per cent by 2030, Reuters calculations show, falling far short of a halving suggested by a UN panel of scientists as a fair share to limit climate change… The developed nations, which have historically emitted most greenhouse gases by burning fossil fuels, are expected to lead by announcing deep cuts before the Paris summit, which is meant to agree a United Nations pact to limit warming beyond 2020. Their collective ambitions are falling short.

Clean, green NZ falls behind Australia on climate change
Even the carbon tax-scrapping Australians will do more than New Zealand to address climate change. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who made an election promise to drop the controversial tax, pledged on Wednesday to cut Australia’s greenhouse gases by 20 per cent by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. That contrasts with the 11 per cent below the 1990 target, set by the New Zealand Government last month. Newly released figures on nine countries and regions show New Zealand’s greenhouse gas pledges are the second-weakest. Only Canada will take a less ambitious goal to the United Nations December climate change conference in Paris, according to a table by independent think-tank The Climate Institute.

Pacific island calls for end to coal, as Abbott’s Australia digs in
In a week dominated by debate over the level of inadequacy of the Abbott government’s 2030 emissions reduction target, the Prime Minister is about to be delivered a timely wake up call. Arriving in his inbox on Thursday will be a letter from the President of the Republic of Kiribati, calling on all world leaders to commit to an end to coal… “The construction of each new coal mine undermines the spirit and intent of any (climate) agreement we may reach, particularly in the upcoming COP 21 in Paris,” Tong writes in the letter.

Another record for Australian wind power, as gas generation plunges
Wind energy generation on Australia’s National Electricity Market achieved a new record in July, generating 1,067GWh for the month. The new high, recorded in the latest quarterly report from Green Energy Markets, was mirrored by a new low for gas-fired generation, at 1,487GWh for the month; the lowest monthly level for more than two and a half years.

Muslim scholars prepare call for action to combat climate change
Islamic scholars and religious leaders are preparing a call for action on climate change that will say it’s the religious duty of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to fight global warming. The declaration will be made in Istanbul next Tuesday during a two-day meeting in the Turkish city coordinated by three religious-environmental groups, according to Climate Action Network, a network of non-governmental organisations. “Islam teaches us: ‘Man is simply a steward holding whatever is on Earth in trust,'” Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje, Uganda’s grand mufti, said in a statement e-mailed by CAN. “Therefore man should ensure that we do everything possible to protect for this and future generations in order to leave this world a better place than we found it.”

Government HFC phase down welcomed by industry
AUSTRALIA – The phase down of hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants announced as part of the Federal Government’s emissions reduction targets is a step in the right direction, according to Dr Greg Picker, executive director of Refrigerants Australia. The government has committed to an 85 per cent phase down of HFCs by 2036 to tick off responsibilities under the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances and to reduce greenhouse gases, as HCFs have both a high global warming potential and negative impacts on the ozone layer.

More efficient cars will help meet our 2030 climate target, and save money
ClimateWorks’ research suggests improving vehicle efficiency by 50% would cut emissions by 9 million tonnes each year after 10 years. But vehicle efficiency isn’t just about reducing emissions. It can also save us money, and reduce our heavy reliance on imported oil. How reliant are we on oil imports? A recent Senate Committee report into Australia’s vulnerability to potential oil supply interruptions highlighted the intersection between energy security and environmental impacts. According to a report from the National Road Motorists Association (NRMA), Australia’s reliance on imported oil and fuel has grown from 60% in 2000 to over 90% in 2014

Costa’s last stand: climate change could see tourists swap the Med for the Baltics
The traditional summer holiday in Spain and other popular Mediterranean holiday destinations is at risk from droughts and forest fires because of global warming, a European commission report says. In contrast, northern European countries could see a rise in tourist numbers and related income, according to the analysis by the commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC). As parts of Europe become seasonally inhospitable, tourists are likely to change the length and timing of their holidays – as well as their destinations – the centre says. Spain and Bulgaria were likely to be the biggest losers from climate disruption, the paper says, while Estonia, Latvia, Slovenia and Slovakia would gain the most.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Global insurer Aviva warns of ‘grave reputational risks’ of Carmichael mine
A major global insurer has warned of the “grave reputational risks” of bankrolling Adani’s huge Queensland coal project, as the vulnerable island nation of Kiribati has begun a diplomatic campaign to halt new coalmines worldwide. The investment arm of UK-based Aviva, which manages assets worth $522bn, is the latest international financier to flag concerns over the Carmichael coalmine, which it said could become a “stranded asset” and was “the antithesis of what was needed” ahead of key UN climate talks in Paris in December.

Environment and Biodiversity

WWF Combines Finance With Conservation to Protect Sumatran Rain Forest
Through an ambitious project model combining innovative financing approaches with traditional conservation, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS) and The Orangutan Project (TOP) are partnering with local communities to actively manage Thirty Hills, 100,000 acres of former logging forest in Sumatra, Indonesia. The joint initiative in Thirty Hills ensures that some of the last unprotected lowland tropical forest in central Sumatra is formally zoned for restoration rather than clearing, and provides the conservation groups a 60-year license to manage the area.


‘Shade balls’ released into LA Reservoir in battle against crippling California drought
In a bid to fight prolonged and crippling drought, Los Angeles has acquired millions of plastic “shade balls” to help with water conservation efforts. The balls can not only reduce evaporation by more than 1 billion litres, they also help to safeguard water quality by blocking sunlight. Mayor Eric Garcetti released 20,000 balls into the Los Angeles Reservoir. There are now a total of 96 million shade balls covering the water.

Economy and Business

Investors could lose $4.2tn due to impact of climate change, report warns
Private investors stand to lose US$4.2tn (NZ$6.35tn) on the value of their holdings from the impact of climate change by 2100 even if global warming is held at plus 2C, a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has warned. If firm action is not taken at the forthcoming climate change talks in Paris and the earth’s temperature warms by a further 5C then investors are facing losses of almost US$7tn at today’s prices, the research shows. This is more than the total current market capitalisation of the London Stock Exchange with impacts on company holdings that will come not just through extreme weather damage but also through lower economic growth.

RWE’s renewables profit more than doubles in first half of 2015
German energy group RWE saw its operating profit from renewables soar in the first six months of this year, the firm announced today. Operating profit from the company’s renewables division, RWE Innogy, hit €233m during the first half of the year, up from €81m the same time last year… The strength of RWE’s renewables division formed a stark contrast with the performance of the wider group, which posted a fall in first-half profit as weaker power prices and problems in its UK business hurt the firm’s bottom line.

Tech Giants, NGOs, Warren Buffett Campaigning to Wipe Out Wildlife Trafficking
U.S.-based tech giants Google, Facebook and eBay, and luxury apparel and accessory companies including Tiffany and Ben Bridge Jewelers have been among the first companies to join billionaire Warren Buffett and over a dozen environmental groups in a new effort to fight the illegal trade in elephant ivory, rhino horns, tiger bones, and other products driving wildlife toward extinction.

Waste and the Circular Economy

80% of food waste in Europe could be avoided says new study
A study undertaken by the Joint Research Council (JRC) of the European Commission has found that 80% of food waste in Europe could be avoided. And the study also found that the UK is the worst culprit for food waste out of the six countries studied. The research, published in Environmental Research Letters, found that the UK wasted the equivalent of one can of beans per person per day, compared to the best performer Romania that only waste an amount similar to one apple per person per day.

Politics and Society

Some Isolated Tribes in the Amazon Are Initiating Contact
The recent emergence of isolated tribes from jungles in Peru and Brazil is challenging officials in both countries to rethink their “no contact” policies and to prepare for a possible wave of “first contacts” as the Amazon wilderness that harbors the highly vulnerable indigenous groups continues to shrink… Peruvian officials sounded the alarm late last month when they announced that a team of experts had been dispatched to a remote Amazonian region to seek “controlled contact” with a group of two dozen indigenous Mashco-Piro nomads. For months, the Indians have appeared regularly on riverbanks and even entered settlements to seize food and goods.

10 Years After Katrina, Some Are ‘Homeless in Their Own Homes’
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana—After Hurricane Katrina, Doris Mitchell, 76, returned to her flooded home in New Orleans, hoping to repair the place where she’d raised her children. But in August 2007, as she walked to the nearby Magnolia Super Market, she was hit on the head during a botched armed robbery. Mitchell died in the hospital… Her son, Joshua Mitchell, 59, tried to do some work on the home himself, but it hasn’t gone well. He’s lived in the house for the past five years without electricity or running water. That puts Mitchell in a distinct category of post-Katrina squatters, who street-outreach workers describe as “homeless in their own homes.”

AGL coal seam gas in Gloucester: Government bowed to pressure for urgent amendment, documents show
AUSTRALI A – The NSW government has been accused of making “law on the run” as it bowed to pressure from AGL to remove a key planning obstacle to its coal seam gas project in Gloucester, new documents reveal. The letters, released under freedom of information to anti-CSG group Groundswell Gloucester, reveal how AGL and government departments responded when shown that existing mining rules required the Waukivory Pilot Project to conduct a full environmental impact study (EIS) because two wells were within three kilometres of a separate project nearby.

Emissions reduction fund: Shorten says Labor government would scrap scheme
Bill Shorten will “axe” Tony Abbott’s emissions reduction fund if he wins next year’s federal election, gaining budget savings of up to $4.3bn over a decade. Shorten will promise to honour contracts already signed with polluters by the Coalition but will then abandon the scheme, which he describes as “a waste of money built on one counter-productive idea: giving great wads of taxpayer cash to big polluters to keep polluting”.

Government accused of rail-roading local communities with new fast track fracking plans
Ministers will today threaten to rescind the power of local councils to decide on fracking planning applications if they seem to be taking too long to reach a decision, in the latest government attempt to kick start the UK’s embryonic shale gas industry. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Amber Rudd and Communities Minister Greg Clark will announce new measures to fast-track shale gas and oil applications, accusing some councils of dragging their feet over the process.

Explainer: what is the dark web?
The “dark web” is a part of the world wide web that requires special software to access. Once inside, web sites and other services can be accessed through a browser in much the same way as the normal web. However, some sites are effectively “hidden”, in that they have not been indexed by a search engine and can only be accessed if you know the address of the site. Special markets also operate within the dark web called, “darknet markets”, which mainly sell illegal products like drugs and firearms, paid for in the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

Built Environment

Electric cars fast becoming households’ primary vehicle
UK – Ultra low emission vehicles (ULEV) are increasingly being used like ‘normal’ cars, a new Government study has found.  In households which own ULEVs, 82% use the low emission car as their main vehicle, while 20% of people who own electric vehicles use it as their only vehicle. The new figures show people do not only use ULEVs for short-distance journeys and use diesel or petrol cars for main longer drives. The research found plug-in electric cars are being driven a comparable amount to conventionally fuelled cars.

First hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai arrive in Europe
Toyota has introduced its first production-grade hydrogen-powered Mirai sedans to Europe this week.  The carmaker shipped its first five models of the Toyota Mirai to Bristol and Zeebrugge in Belgium and is set to go on sale next month for €66,000. The hydrogen vehicle will go on sale Germany, Denmark and the UK – countries with some initial hydrogen infrastructure now in place – with between 50 and 100 cars expected from 2015-16.

Highways England to begin ‘electric highway’ charging trials
Highways England will begin testing “electric highway” technology from the end of this year, the agency announced yesterday. The technology, which could allow owners of electric and hybrid vehicles to charge wirelessly while on the go, is being trialled at an off-road testing site, with the long-term aim of making it available on England’s motorways and major A roads. The experiment, which follows a feasibility study into dynamic wireless power transfer technologies, will install wireless technology on electric vehicles and under the road in a bid to simulate motorway conditions.

Gary Taylor: Crucial city tackles rapid growth
NEW ZEALAND – Auckland needs to take urgent steps to maintain and improve its environment. The biggest challenge is coping with the implications of rapid growth.  The numbers of new Aucklanders exceed the number of dwellings being built; congestion is getting worse while government dithers on congestion funding and on public transport projects; water, wastewater and other infrastructure is struggling to keep up; and in a couple of months there could be a chainsaw massacre as urban tree protections expire.

Ten ways we could improve Auckland’s environment
What could we do to make Auckland a more environmentally-friendly and sustainable city going forward?

Researchers on Auckland environment: ‘We’re a little behind’ (Video 5:05 min)
Three researchers talk about how Auckland’s environment isn’t quite as green as we thought, and what we can do to improve…

Food Systems

Dairy growth in north-west Tasmania causing concern for oyster farmers
AUSTRALIA – The expanding footprint of Tasmania’s dairy industry has caused environmental concerns in the north-west. Oyster leases across Circular Head have been forced to close for up to seven months because of effluent run-off from farms. Farmers are being encouraged to invest in solutions as the two industries meet to resolve tensions.

Under the sea: the underwater farms growing basil, strawberries and lettuce
Beneath the blue waters 100m off the coast of Noli in northwest Italy lies a cluster of balloon-like pods pegged to the seabed by ropes half a dozen or so metres long. Inside a range of produce is being grown, including red cabbage, lettuce, beans basil and strawberries. It may sound like something you’d find in a science fiction novel, but this is the work of Ocean Reef Group. With the help of agricultural experts, the Genova-based scuba diving company is applying its knowledge and technology to finding new ways to produce food.


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