Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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How Many Cells Are in the Human Body—And How Many Microbes?
Your body is a microbial melting pot, home to trillions of bacteria that help keep you healthy and regular. And for decades, scientists have shown their importance with this alluring factoid: The microbes in your body outnumber your own cells ten to one. But a new estimate indicates that, as far as cell counts are concerned, it may well be a tie.

Energy and Climate Change

Obama vows to overhaul coal mining on public lands to ‘invest in the future’
Barack Obama promised an overhaul of coal mining on public lands on Tuesday, delivering a major blow to the ailing industry. In his final State of the Union address, the US president said he would push for changes to the leasing of public lands for oil, coal and gas leases at cut-rate prices, saying: “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future.”

Wambo Coal mine in Hunter investigated by Environment Protection Authority over dam wall collapse
Environmental regulators are demanding coal mining giant Peabody Energy explain how a dam wall at a Hunter Valley mine collapsed amid heavy rain and the company took a week to report the incident.

Fuel cells: A $2 billion secret of the clean economy
A recent report by the Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association (PDF) said that 9 percent of Fortune 500 companies and 23 percent of Fortune 100 companies are using fuel cells in some aspect of their operations. The primary uses are for backup power generation and material handling equipment. The current market in industrial fuel cells has hit the $2 billion mark with more than 13,500 units deployed. While one might question the practicality and affordability of using fuel cells for backup power, it turns out that they are well-suited to the role.

Sustainability Mythbusters: Is Reducing Product Energy Use Always the Best Solution?
e and i devices are becoming more and more present in our lives: Every type of consumer good is becoming ’intelligent,’ with bright and sometime colourful displays or added communication functions that allow control with a smartphone or tablet. The consequence is ever-growing global electricity consumption, which in turns puts pressure, through labelling or regulation, on manufacturers to design lower-burden products. At first thought, reducing product energy use sounds like a good idea. But does lowering energy consumption of individual products lead to improvement in their environmental impact overall?

Environment and Biodiversity

Nat Geo, Aronofsky Aim to Create ‘Inspired Stewards’ of the Earth with ‘One Strange Rock’ Series
21st Century Fox’s National Geographic Channel has teamed with Academy Award-nominated director Darren Aronofsky for “One Strange Rock,” an event series exploring the conditions that make Earth the only planet known to sustain life. The project is in preproduction and plans to film for 100 weeks around the world and in outer space, using micro- and macro-photography technology and bringing cameras where they’ve never been before.

Richard Branson fronts nail-biting campaign against rhino poaching
Sir Richard Branson is leading a new campaign against the sale of rhino horn that features the Virgin founder, along with Chinese celebrities and global wildlife ambassadors, chewing their nails.  The campaign, a series of English and Chinese-language billboards and videos from conservation groups WildAid and the African Wildlife Foundation, aims to highlight how rhino horn is made primarily of keratin, the same protein that makes up human fingernails and hair, which has no medical benefits.

Hong Kong to Shut Down Legal Ivory Trade
In late October, we reported that Hong Kong announced it would “consider” shutting down its domestic ivory trade. Now, it says it’s ready to take the plunge. “We will take steps to ban totally the sale of ivory in Hong Kong,” said Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, during a press conference after his annual policy address. He added that his government will do it “as quickly as we can,” but he didn’t offer details on when it will happen.

South Africa an Outlier on Ivory Policies
…The United States, the European Union, Kenya, Uganda, and most other countries all argued that given the current poaching crisis it would be unproductive and dangerous to proceed with discussions about legalizing the ivory trade. South Africa wanted to further ivory trade discussions. That’s because it believes that legalizing the trade will drive down prices by increasing the supply of ivory…

Seagrass meadows around British Isles in ‘perilous state’
Most seagrass meadows around the coast of the British Isles are in a “perilous state”, say scientists. Plants are being damaged by pollution and human disturbances such as mooring boats, according to researchers. Surveys of 11 sites in England, Wales and Ireland found high nitrogen levels in water were affecting the health of seagrass meadows at all but two areas. Seagrass, which is found in shallow waters of coastal regions, is declining globally at a rate of about 7% a year.

Campaigners call for new British charter for trees
UK – Led by the Woodland Trust, 48 conservation and cultural groups have launched a campaign for a new charter in 2017, the 800-year anniversary of the signing of the original Charter of the Forest by Henry III. This protected and restored the right of people to access and use the royal forests – crucial at the time for grazing livestock, collecting firewood and foraging for food. The coalition says it is time for a new charter, as woods come under “unprecedented threat” from development, pests and disease and climate change and trees risk being “neglected, undervalued and forgotten”.\

Mysterious mass deaths of Alaskan birds an ominous sign
Washington:  Tens of thousands of dead birds are washing up on the beaches of Alaska’s Prince William Sound, an unexplained mass die-off that some experts say may be related to the changing climate. The birds, all of a species known as the common murre, appear to have starved to death, federal wildlife officials say, suggesting disruptions to the supply of herring and other fish that make up the birds’ diet.

Economy and Business

IMF calls for carbon tax on ships and planes
The International Monetary Fund is calling for a carbon tax on aviation and shipping to help deliver global climate goals. A charge of $30 a tonne on carbon dioxide embedded in international transport fuels could have raised $25 billion in 2014, the influential Washington DC-based body estimates. In a report released after 195 countries struck a UN climate pact in Paris, it said carbon pricing should be “front and centre” in efforts to curb global warming.

Investors to companies: It’s time to come clean on climate risk
Generally, investors’ biggest concern is their shareholder return, which is why environmental and sustainability concerns long have been afterthought for most of the investment community.  As a recent report from Ernst & Young shows, however, environmental and sustainability concerns are no longer just outcries from environmental activists in the green echo chamber. Issues related to climate and the environment are increasingly becoming material financial risks for investors.

Apple, Philips, RB and the rush toward restricted substances
Brands as diverse as Apple, Levi’s, Philips, Method and retailers such as Home Depot, Staples and Walmart are restricting potentially hazardous substances to drive safer chemical choices.  From legal requirements to emerging issues, restricted substances lists (RSLs) (PDF) manage materials and chemicals of concern in products and supply chains.  While RSLs are nearing universal uptake, their ability to advance better ingredient choices requires more than creating the list.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Cradle to Cradle Design Challenge Winners Provide Practical Everyday Solutions
The winners of the second Cradle to Cradle (C2C) Product Design Challenge were announced this morning – each solution was carefully designed to maximize the use of materials that can be perpetually cycled for reuse. The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute and Autodesk, the hosts of the competition, awarded a $2000 cash prize to the winners in the four categories.

Politics and Society

Middle class? Don’t ignore climate change
Think that climate change will only affect the poor? Think again. With greater wealth and assets than low-income groups, the middle classes face increased insurance costs, reduced property value, mental stress and heat-related illness and mortality. But with increased political clout, they could also be the ones to compel strong action by their governments, according to a new report by UBS, which looks at the middle classes in 215 cities across 15 countries at various stages of economic development.

Nick Smith rejects extended marine protection laws
NEW ZEALAND – Environment Minister Nick Smith has defended the decision not to extend marine protection laws to New Zealand’s deep seas, saying it would be too legally complicated and sanctuaries could still be created in these areas through one-off law changes. The announcement of two new recreational fishing parks yesterday was part of broader changes to legislation which governed marine reserves.

Air pollution: UK environment ministers face court action within weeks
UK environment ministers will be taken to court within weeks to make them speed up plans to reduce dangerous urban air pollution. Law firm ClientEarth, which last year forced the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to come up with fresh plans to tackle illegal NO2 levels in British cities, warned that it would seek urgent court action because thousands of people’s lives were at risk if present government plans were not strengthened.

A 20-year labour of love transforms weed-infested farm back to native rainforest in northern NSW
AUSTRALIA – Lantana once swallowed nine hectares of rocky terrain, dotted with camphor laurels among farmland at Coolgardie, south of Ballina in northern New South Wales. But a 56-year-old single mother of four daughters saw beauty between the weeds and vowed to make it her own. Di Mercer bought the property she named Crystal Hill in 1968 with grand plans of restoring it to native rainforest, not unlike the surrounds of her childhood in Papua New Guinea. Her daughter Stephanie Lymburner said Ms Mercer built a house on the land in 1972 and set about removing the thick exotic weeds, while planting a koala-friendly habitat in their place.

Food Systems

EU scientists in row over safety of Glyphosate weedkiller
A bitter row has broken out over the allegedly carcinogenic qualities of a widely-used weedkiller, ahead of an EU decision on whether to continue to allow its use. At issue is a call by the European Food and Safety Authority (Efsa) to disregard an opinion by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) on the health effects of Glyphosate


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