Sustainable Development News

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

Carbon dioxide levels in atmosphere forecast to shatter milestone
Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 will shatter the symbolic barrier of 400 parts per million (ppm) this year and will not fall below it our in our lifetimes, according to a new Met Office study. Carbon dioxide measurements at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii are forecast to soar by a record 3.1ppm this year – up from an annual average of 2.1ppm – due in large part to the cyclical El Niño weather event in the Pacific, the paper says. The surge in CO2 levels will be larger than during the last big El Niño in 1997/98, because manmade emissions have increased by 25% since then, boosting the phenomenon’s strength.

Energy and Climate Change

Seven islands to see before they’re gone forever
There are things you might constantly put off for just another day: laundry, dishes, exercising. But jaunting off to a far-flung island shouldn’t be one of them. Here’s why: With rising sea levels, erosion, and pollution as a result of climate change on the uptick, many idyllic islands (and their rare and stunning wildlife) are fast approaching an expiration date.

Solar Impulse aeroplane flies over New York
Solar Impulse 2, the groundbreaking solar-powered aeroplane, has arrived at JFK airport in New York City as part of its historic round-the-world attempt. Swiss pilot Andre Borschberg was in the cockpit for the short flight from Pennsylvania, taking off late on Friday night local time. This latest flight was the final leg of the trans-America section of the global circumnavigation attempt for the zero-fuel aeroplane.

Environment and Biodiversity

Indonesia to rezone 3.8m of protected peat that was damaged or converted
In May, the Indonesian government announced that nearly half of the peatlands protected under a 2011 forestry moratorium have actually been damaged or converted. Last week, the forestry ministry said it would issue a regulation to provide legal status for these areas, which amount to 3.8 million hectares – nearly the size of Puerto Rico. These peatlands have either burned or been “turned into agriculture, plantations, mines, fish farms and resettlement areas,” San Afri Awang, the ministry’s spatial-planning director, said in Jakarta.

Legal ivory sale drove dramatic increase in elephant poaching, study shows
A huge legal sale of ivory intended to cut elephant poaching instead catastrophically backfired by dramatically increasing elephant deaths, according to new research. The revelation comes just months before a decision on whether to permit another legal sale and against a backdrop of more African elephants being killed for ivory than are being born. In 2015 alone, 20,000 elephants were illegally killed.

In unprecedented move, Michelin adopts zero deforestation for rubber sourcing
Michelin Group, one of the world’s three largest tire companies, has just adopted a zero deforestation policy for its rubber sourcing. The move is significant because rubber is a major driver of tropical forest destruction through the conversion of natural forests for plantations. Forests in West Africa and Southeast Asia have been particularly hard hit by the commodity’s production.

NSW farmers stepping up tree felling even before land-clearing laws loosened
AUSTRALIA – The state’s farmers have lopped paddock trees at an accelerating rate in the past 18 months even before a new land-clearing law eases controls further, government data shows. The new figures, which reveal the rate of clearing of paddock trees has more than doubled since November 2014, come as the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists wrote to all MPs to call for a reversal of “retrograde changes” planned in the new Biodiversity Conservation act. NSW farmers used a new self-assessment code to remove 21,716 paddock trees – or more than 50 a day – over the past year and a half.

Longfin eels get a foot hold on slippery slope to extinction
NEW ZEALAND – Eels are in trouble the world over, so new management measures of our rarest eel are raising hopes for their future.


Warka Water: Biomimicry-inspired water harvesting
Water is essential to all life, but many people in the world do not have access to a regular healthy supply. For example, in Ethiopia, only 44% of the general population can access safe drinking water, a figure that drops to under 35% in rural areas. As well as the serious hydration problems, a lack of clean water and sanitation leads to the rapid spread of a range of diseases, which are responsible for over 200,000 deaths annually. Warka Water is a project that aims to partly tackle this challenge in rural areas taking inspiration from the water gathering strategies of nature in desert areas.

Climate change could alter the chemistry of deepwater lakes and harm ecosystems
In a study I recently co-authored… we projected that future climate change scenarios will significantly alter natural mixing processes in Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada range that are critical to the health of the lake’s ecosystem. This could potentially create a condition that we termed “climatic eutrophication.” While many groups have studied the long-term impact of climate change on lakes, this process can now be added to the growing list of drivers of eutrophication. This is a potentially damaging phenomenon that could affect a number of vital deep-water lakes around the world, degrading water quality and harming fish populations.

Economy and Business

Hawaii’s grand experiments in the ag-energy nexus
The sugar and pineapple plantations that once were central to the Hawaiian economy have all but disappeared, acreage in cultivation having shrunk by 85 percent. Cattle ranchers on these islands have a hard time competing with mainland beef sellers because of the need to import grain. And Hawaii exports 80 percent of the wonderful array of fruits, coffee, macadamia nuts, cattle, pigs and vegetables it grows — even as it imports 90 percent of the food its people consume.  Electricity is generated mostly from imported petroleum, which adds costs to everything.  Hawaiians yearn to grow more of their own food and supply their own energy through renewable sources, tired as they are of depending on expensive imports from the mainland. 

A World First: Step Inside Heineken’s Zero-Carbon BreweryGoss
In the postcard-perfect town of Göss, a two-hour drive south of Vienna, something very interesting is brewing. This is home to the Gösser Brewery, one of more than 165 breweries owned and operated by the Heineken Group, the world’s third-largest beer maker with some 250 different brands under its umbrella – including Bierra Moretti in Italy, Amstel in the Netherlands, Tiger in South East Asia and Gösser in Austria – the nation’s favourite, with 70 percent of market share. And it is here that Heineken is proudly boasting to have created the world’s first large-scale zero-carbon brewery.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Q&A: A Plastic Ocean – can a movie help us see this invisible crisis?
Scientists have warned about the dangers of plastic pollution and microplastics in the environment for a while now. But most people still aren’t convinced of the link between carelessly discarding a water bottle and damage in the seas. After all, plastic in the ocean doesn’t have the powerful symbolism of nuclear plants or oil spills: most of it is below the waves, often invisible to the naked eye. A new documentary feature film, A Plastic Ocean, wants to change all that.

Politics and Society

The irresistible vision behind ‘The New Grand Strategy’ (Book Talk)
Sometimes, an idea comes along that you just can’t pass up. It may be that the messenger behind the idea is charismatic, or that the timing seems exactly right, or that the idea itself just feels important, or that this is exactly the challenge you needed at this point in your life. Sometimes, it’s all of the above. That’s as close as I can come to explaining why I decided to push aside so many things two years ago to co-author a book about grand strategy, sustainability and America’s future: the messenger, the timing, the topic, the challenge and a gut feeling that this just might be the culmination of everything that I’ve been doing for the past, well, 40 years. That book — “The New Grand Strategy: Restoring America’s Prosperity, Security, and Sustainability in the 21st Century” — is just out and I couldn’t be more excited to share it with the world.

Election 2016: Malcolm Turnbull pledges ‘comprehensive’ $1b plan to protect Great Barrier Reef
AUSTRALIA – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is making his pitch to voters in north Queensland today, promising to invest $1 billion over 10 years to protect one of Australia’s most treasured landmarks — the Great Barrier Reef. A fortnight after Labor announced it would make the “largest ever” financial investment in the reef if elected, Mr Turnbull has travelled to Townsville to outline his Government’s “comprehensive plan”.
See also: Malcolm Turnbull announces $1bn assistance for Great Barrier Reef in re-election promise (Video 0:40)

Government proposes to halve paua catch in Top of the South
NEW ZEALAND – Marlborough’s paua industry is supporting a proposal to cut the region’s commercial paua catch, but local iwi is not convinced.  The Government has put forward proposals to reduce the total allowable annual catch in the Nelson, Marlborough and Tasman area from 220.24 tonnes a year to either 152 tonnes or 115 tonnes.  Rangitane o Wairau development manager Richard Bradley said iwi supported taking steps to protect the paua fisheries, but had reservations about the proposals.

Built Environment

Air pollution linked to increased mental illness in children
A major new study has linked air pollution to increased mental illness in children, even at low levels of pollution. The new research found that relatively small increases in air pollution were associated with a significant increase in treated psychiatric problems. It is the first study to establish the link but is consistent with a growing body of evidence that air pollution can affect mental and cognitive health and that children are particularly vulnerable to poor air quality.

200 cities make climate pledges
More than 200 cities with a combined population of nearly 440 million have set emissions reduction targets to support national climate action pledges under the Paris Agreement. Initiatives including the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the Compact of Mayors have provided important frameworks for cities to collaborate on measures to boost clean transport, renewable energy, green buildings and energy efficiency.

Visible cracks? How the cement industry is coping with a low-carbon transition
Cement is not an industry usually at the forefront of investors’ minds when it comes to climate issues, however due to its carbon intensity and cement’s everyday necessity, companies face a challenge in becoming compatible with the future transition following COP21 in Paris. The changing landscape of policy and regulation for an industry which accounts for 5% of global emissions will have implications for investors and the value of their holdings. We have explored this further in our latest sector research piece on cement companies.

Building Sustainable Homes (Audio 7:50)
Housing in New Zealand faces many challenges – not least reversing the health impacts of low-quality homes while meeting exploding demand. How do we resolve these thorny issues to create resilient, liveable homes and communities? Kathryn Ryan talks to Andrea Reimer who was a driving force behind Vancouver becoming the world’s fourth greenest city. As part of the city’s goal to become the world’s greenest city by 2020, Andrea says that only seven years into it, Vancouver has already reduced waste production and water consumption by 18 percent and greenhouse gas emissions have dropped 8 percent in the city, despite a rising population.


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