Sustainable Development News

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

Toxic innovation: Volkswagen is the tip of a destructive iceberg
Toxic innovation develops and changes products, services or backroom business processes that harm customers. It can be deliberate and born of greed; it can be the result of benign but misguided intent; it can be an utterly unforseen and indirect effect. Ultimately, it can damage or destroy the organisation behind it.

Energy and Climate Change

Oil unlikely to ever be fully exploited because of climate concerns – BP
The world’s oil resources are unlikely to ever be fully exploited, BP has admitted, due to international concern about climate change. The statement, by the group’s chief economist, is the clearest acknowledgement yet by a major fossil fuel company that some coal, oil and gas will have to remain in the ground if dangerous global warming is to be avoided.

This Power Plant Set Out to Prove Coal Can Be Clean. Did It Work?
On a chilly, open plain in Saskatchewan, clean coal is getting its first big trial. The Boundary Dam power plant fired up last October, promising to generate enough electricity for 100,000 homes while capturing and reusing most of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide from its exhaust. The world is watching. Since most of its electricity comes from fossil fuels, proponents say carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology like Boundary Dam’s could be critical in heading off the worst effects of climate change. Can the $1.1 billion Canadian project prove them right?

Australia must double decarbonisation rate to meet 2030 goals, report finds
The federal government has said it is making good progress in cutting greenhouse gases after a new report found that Australia will have to double its historic rate of decarbonisation if it is to meet its climate goals. Australia will have to slash its carbon intensity by 4.4% each year if it is to meet its goal of reducing emissions by at least 26% by 2030, based on 2005 levels, according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) analysis.

Australia’s energy future could be network of micro-grids
Australia’s energy markets are on the cusp of rapid change, but it is not just the prospect of individuals quitting the grid that represents the biggest challenge to industry incumbents: it’s the possible defection of whole towns and communities. The creation of micro-grids is seen by many leading players as an obvious solution to Australia’s soaring electricity costs, where the grid has to cover huge areas, at the cost of massive cross-subsidies that support it.

NSW lifts energy savings ambitions, aiming to cut power bills, emissions
AUSTRALIA – The Baird government has raised its energy savings goal by 70 per cent by 2020 in a bid to limit rising electricity and gas bills, and save an extra 730,000 tonnes of carbon emission annually by the end of the decade. The Energy Savings Scheme, set up in 2009 by the previous Labor government, will be expanded to include gas and extended five years to 2025 following a review of its operations. The saving program creates incentives for households and businesses to invest in more energy efficient equipment by cutting the upfront cost of replacing halogen lights with LED ones or buying higher rated fridges, hot water systems and other goods.

Tesla batteries to power world’s first hybrid-electric buildings
Tesla battery packs will be used to part-power 24 office buildings in California, under a deal announced today  The Irvine Company, a real-estate firm with properties throughout California, will install Tesla battery systems the size of five parking spaces, that will reduce peak energy consumption across the company’s entire portfolio by 25%.

Climate models too complicated? Here’s one that everyone can use
The new Monash Simple Climate Model (MSCM), which my research team developed, allows students and the public to use a real climate model to do their own climate simulations. It provides a simple model of the average global climate and its response to external factors such as changes in sunlight or CO₂ concentration.

Methane release from melting permafrost could trigger dangerous global warming
As the Earth warms, and the Arctic warms especially fast, the permafrost melts and soil decomposition accelerates. Consequently, an initial warming leads to more emission, leading to more warming and more emission. It is a vicious cycle and there may be a tipping point where this self-reinforcing cycle takes over.

Environment and Biodiversity

The oceans are changing too fast for marine life to keep up
Some of the ocean’s top predators, such as tuna and sharks, are likely to feel the effects of rising carbon dioxide levels more heavily compared other marine species. That’s just one of the results of a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. Over the past five years we’ve seen a significant increase in research on ocean acidification and warming seas, and their effect on marine life. I and my colleague Sean Connell looked at these studies to see if we could find any overarching patterns. We found that overall, unfortunately, the news is not good for marine life, and if we do nothing to halt climate change we could lose habitats such as coral reefs and see the weakening of food chains which support our fisheries.


NHS should spend millions on nature-for-health plan, say wildlife groups
NHS England should spend millions of pounds on using nature to prevent illness and help people recover from health problems, according to a coalition of wildlife groups representing millions of people. In a report to be launched on Tuesday by broadcaster and naturalist Steve Backshall, the 26 nature organisations call for 1% of NHS England’s £1.8bn public health budget to be spent on helping people access green spaces and the coastline to tackle obesity and mental illness.

Wolf hunters deployed to French Alps
A team of wolf hunters is operating in a region of the French Alps to kill wolves that are seen as a threat to livestock.  The teams were supplied by the state after pressure from shepherds and farmers.  In defiance of EU law, the French government has also relaxed the hunting rules to help farmers defend stocks. However conservationists argue that wolves are vital to ensuring a proper balance in nature.

Economy and Business

Brand, reputation and staff: the business case for social good
Whether you look at it on a global or local level, there are plenty of ways that business could contribute to social good. Providing apprenticeships for unemployed people, say, or ensuring that those further down the supply chain work in conditions that are safe, in factories that do not pollute the environment. When there are still billions of people around the world living on less than $2 a day, there is clearly a long way to go in improving the lives of many in the developing world.

UN report: 5 signs green investment is gaining ground
There’s a major shift happening in private sector investment to address climate change, with innovative finance mechanisms like green bonds leading the charge, a new UN report has found. The report, Trends in Private Sector Climate Finance, said the finance community was emerging as a leader in the fight to limit climate change, but policy intervention was now needed to broaden and deepen available opportunities.

Patagonia on why treading lightly is a great business opportunity
It’s a counter-intuitive strategy to tell potential customers not to buy your stuff if they don’t really need it, but it’s been working well for outdoor clothing and equipment manufacturer Patagonia, with sales booming and a turnover of $600 million in 2013. Dane O’Shanassy, Patagonia Australia and New Zealand general manager, says one of the factors driving the company’s international success is the rise of the “conscious consumer”. “Our research tells us consumers are demanding more in this space and are willing to pay more,” he says.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Could these two environmental challenges solve each other?
Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from, and often epitomizes, many environmental challenges faced by the developing world. Two challenges — safe sanitation and sustainable fuel — are receiving increasing attention, with both included among the Sustainable Development Goals slated for launch by the United Nations later this month. As the development community works to solve them, the seed of an idea is beginning to sprout that the two could provide solutions to each other.

George Walkers: profiting from the circular economy
George Walkers sells office furniture with a twist: it buys ex-corporate office furniture, refurbishes it and then sells to offices across New Zealand. Annually this saves thousands of cubic metres from landfill.  Entering the market seven years ago George Walker reinvented the furniture sales business model after seeing a big gap in the market: there were no other furniture companies in Auckland. Throughout the past seven years George Walkers has led innovation in the refurbished furniture market.

TerraCycle: Reimagining recycling
TerraCycle is part of New Zealand’s disruptive circular economy and it’s taken charge of recycling the waste that other agencies deem unsavoury or difficult to recycle or that can’t be disposed of through local council municipal bins. Through pioneering greater access to recycling for New Zealand businesses and households TerraCycle’s goal is to end the idea of waste through creating a market for it to be recycled into new products.

Politics and Society

Beyond GDP – how Australia could help redefine well-being
The 5th Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) World Forum [is] to be held in Guadalajara, Mexico on 13-15 October. The World Forum will look at all aspects of modern life… But its main function this year is in discussing the limitations of using the economic indicator of GDP as a measurement of progress, and considering alternatives.

After the VW scandal, how can we trust business to act on climate change?
It won’t show up in any biodiversity assessment, or make it into a State Of The World report. But alongside tuna stocks, tropical rainforests, and the white rhino, there is another finite resource being ruthlessly squandered through unsustainable practices. Trust – the invisible but crucial glue that holds communities together and social contracts in place – is a precious commodity. And every time a corporation poisons our atmosphere (with this year’s villainous cameo coming courtesy of the car manufacturer Volkswagen), they are doing something else that is just as destructive: poisoning the well of public opinion.

Rising numbers of Americans believe climate science, poll shows
Around 70% of Americans believe in the science behind global warming – the highest level of acceptance in the US since 2008 – according to a new survey.  The level of belief has increased seven percentage points in the past six months, the polling by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College shows. The researchers said the significant rise in acceptance is particularly notable among Republicans and evangelical Christian groups.

Bolivia: Capitalism must be ‘destroyed’ to solve climate change
Bolivia has called for an end to capitalism in order to tackle climate change, warning the economic system is leading humanity towards “a horizon of destruction that sentences nature and life itself to death”. The socialist country yesterday submitted its national climate action plan to the United Nations, which all nations have been asked to prepare ahead of global talks in Paris that begin next month. Bolivia steered away from setting an economy-wide carbon reduction goal and instead pledged to end illegal deforestation within the next five years and boost the share of renewable energy to 79 per cent by 2030 up from 39 per cent in 2010.

Why it matters that student participation in maths and science is declining
There has been a lot of talk about Australia’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) crisis, and new initiatives have been developed to tackle it… But the simple fact remains that many students are choosing not to study these subjects at high school. A new report, with my colleague John Mack, confirms that, compared with 15 years ago – in the dark ages of digital technology – recent NSW high school certificate (HSC) graduates are less well prepared to enter STEM courses at university, while 50% of them finish high school with no science study at all.

Community garden digging in for future
NEW ZEALAND – It’s hard to believe, as you walk around the Kelmarna Gardens, that the busy thoroughfares of Jervois and Richmond Roads are metres away. There are sweet-smelling piles of compost being forked into wheelbarrows, chickens scratching away in their coop, cows in the paddock at the bottom of the gardens. Wonky hand-painted signs mark out the vege beds of long-term community gardeners, former clients of Framework, a community mental health and intellectual disability service which pulled out of running the gardens in February this year… “When Framework pulled out, they’d been here a bloody long time. It was a strategic response for their government contract, they needed to fulfil their contract in different ways,” says Mr Roche.

Built Environment

The 5×4 concept: How Melbourne photographer leads world in zero carbon living
AUSTRALIA – Photographer Ralph Alphonso had planned to turn a small inner city property space – just 5 metres by 4 metres – next to his inner city photographic studio in east Melbourne into a car port with a roof. Instead, after prompting from his father, he came up with a better idea. He calls it the 5×4 concept. Over three levels, he has replaced the existing lean-to storage shed with a three-level living area of 60 square metres. Add in a rooftop garden with a plunge pool/spa and shading from his solar PV array, he has a total of 80 square metres to live in.

More people will cycle when everyone accepts cyclists’ right to be on the road
Despite the health, environmental and social benefits of cycling, efforts to boost the number of people travelling by bike have hit a plateau… Cycling accounts for 1% of daily trips in Australia, and the main barrier to greater uptake seems to be the widespread concern about safety, particularly fears of sharing the road with motor vehicles and a lack of appropriate infrastructure. To an extent, the numbers bear this out. Although my research shows that cyclist deaths have decreased steadily over the past two decades, cyclist hospitalisations rose from 3,676 in 2005 to 5,527 in 2013, while bicycle riders as a proportion of all road hospitalisations rose from 13% to 16%.

Boom time for light rail in Australia
AUSTRALIA – Malcolm Turnbull’s weekend announcement that the Commonwealth will provide $95 million in funding towards the extension of the Gold Coast’s light rail system gives further impetus to the quite remarkable popularity of the technology in Australia. Trams were once Australia’s most popular form of public transport, operating even in comparatively small cities such as Geelong and Ballarat. Now they are flavour of the month for Australia’s growing band of public transport advocates, the chief of which is our new Prime Minister.


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