Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Australia facing questions at UN over post-2020 climate change stance
Australia is facing renewed international pressure to explain what it is doing to tackle climate change, with a United Nations review finding its emissions continue to soar and several countries calling for clarity about what it will do after 2020. Countries including China and the US have put more than 30 questions to the Turnbull government, asking for detail about how Australia will meet its 2030 emissions target and raising concerns about a lack of transparency over how the government calculates and reports emissions.

Energy and Climate Change

‘Extreme Weather’ Film Connects Nature’s Fury to Climate Change
Hear the rumble of ice blocks shearing off the edge of a glacier. See the destructive power of a tornado’s swirling winds. Watch flames devour a forest as if it were so many matchsticks. These dramatic scenes are presented in the new IMAX documentary film Extreme Weather, produced by National Geographic and appearing in theaters starting October 15.

UN moves to ban ‘fastest growing’ greenhouse gases
Cooling chemicals that play a key role in refrigeration and air conditioning are likely to be rapidly phased out if delegates can reach agreement in Rwanda this week. Around 150 countries are meeting in Kigali to try and agree a speedy ban on hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases.  HFCs were introduced to limit damage to the ozone layer, but cause much greater levels of global warming than CO2. However nations are divided over the speed and timing of any phase-out.

Companies that produce HFC-23 in India must destroy this gas: Environment Ministry
As countries try to negotiate an agreement to eliminate planet-warming hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), India on Thursday asked its industry to “urgently and immediately” destroy one particularly dangerous gas in this set of chemicals, called HFC-23, that has 14,800 times more potential to cause global warming than carbon dioxide.

Queensland smashes myths about renewables, and South Australia
Queensland fancies itself as a coal state, and the Labor government’s support of the huge mega coal projects in the Galilee Basin has attracted widespread criticism from environmental groups. But it has done a fantastic service to Australia’s clean energy debate with the release of the draft report into its planned 50 per cent renewable energy target. The report – prepared by an independent panel drawn mostly from the banking and energy industries – smashes so many renewable energy myths it is difficult to know where to start.

Australia “battery boom” potential in focus with new Senate Inquiry
A parliamentary inquiry into the potential for a battery storage “boom” in Australia, both to drive further uptake of distributed renewables and to boost the resilience of the grid, will be conducted after a motion put by the Australian Greens was passed in the Senate on Wednesday afternoon. The Select Committee Inquiry into Resilience of Electricity Infrastructure in a Warming World was proposed by the Greens in response to the recent extreme weather events and resulting “system black” event in South Australia.

UK must focus on carbon removal to meet Paris goals, climate advisers urge
The UK government needs to kickstart technologies to suck carbon dioxide from the air if it is to play its part in meeting the goals of the Paris climate change agreement, according to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s official advisers. The global climate deal, which the prime minister, Theresa May, says the UK will ratify by the end of 2016, pledges net zero emissions by the second half of the century, in order to avoid the worst impacts of global warming. Given that some emissions, such as those from aviation and agriculture, will be very difficult to reduce to zero, that means removing some carbon from the atmosphere.

We’re placing far too much hope in pulling carbon dioxide out of the air, scientists warn
In the past decade, an ambitious — but still mostly hypothetical — technological strategy for meeting our global climate goals has grown prominent in scientific discussions. Known as “negative emissions,” the idea is to remove carbon dioxide from the air using various technological means… Recent models of future climate scenarios have assumed that this technique will be widely used in the future… But some scientists are arguing that this assumption may be a serious mistake.

Environment and Biodiversity

Past our peak: plants and a burgeoning problem with CO2
In recent decades warmer temperatures have led to shorter winters, and in the UK the plant growing season is now a full month longer than it was in 1990. The same is true across much of the northern hemisphere, and this extra plant growth has helped to mop up atmospheric carbon dioxide and keep a lid on global warming. But no longer. New measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide reveal that plants have reached saturation point, and that since 2006 the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by plants has been declining.

Wildlife trafficking: Environment MEPs call for ivory trade ban and EU penalties
Environment MEPs advocate a full and immediate EU-wide ban on ivory and rhinoceros horn trade, and call for common sanctions at EU level against wildlife trafficking, in a resolution voted on Thursday. Wildlife trafficking is worth an estimated €20 billion annually. It has grown in recent years, becoming one of the biggest and most profitable forms of organised cross-border crime.

More shark nets for NSW: why haven’t we learned from WA’s cull?
AUSTRALIA – New South Wales Premier Mike Baird has this week announced a plan for a six-month trial of shark nets off the beaches of northern NSW. This would extend the state’s shark net program from the 51 beaches currently netted between Wollongong and Newcastle.  The announcement was triggered by Wednesday’s shark accident, in which a surfer received minor injuries from a shark bite at Sharpes Beach, Ballina… The decision to introduce shark nets in the state’s north invites us to revisit some common misunderstandings about this strategy.

Swift parrot: Arborists hope new tree hollows will help save endangered bird
AUSTRALIA – A chainsaw may not seem like the obvious solution for a bird facing extinction because of habitat loss, but a group of volunteer arborists are hoping it could be the key to saving the swift parrot. Thirty-two arborists from the Victorian Tree Industry Organisation travelled to Bruny Island in Tasmania to carve hollows for the birds to nest in.

Farmers big players in River Story Awards
NEW ZEALAND – Southern farmers are leading the way in river health, with farmers big drivers in projects which are finalists in this year’s River Story Award.  Finalists for the competition come from Southland, North Otago and Bay of Plenty.

Fat or thin: can the bacteria in our gut affect our eating habits and weight?
When we can’t lose weight, we tend to want to blame something outside our control. Could it be related to the microbiota – the bacteria and other organisms – that colonise your gut?  Our gut harbours some trillion microorganisms. These are key in harvesting energy from our food, regulating our immune function, and keeping the lining of our gut healthy.  The composition of our gut microbiota is partly determined by our genes but can also be influenced by lifestyle factors such as our diet, alcohol intake and exercise, as well as medications.

Economy and Business

Farm to cafeteria table: The new local food frontier
The next time someone points to the need for more farmers’ markets as a way to help move local food from a trend to a substantive cultural shift, you might consider telling them about the power of institutional purchasing. It may sound less interesting and, on the surface, it certainly is. (Who doesn’t love buying purple carrots to the sound of a didgeridoo?) But bear with us.

Yealands Wine Group puts in largest solar panel installation in New Zealand
A Marlborough winery has so many solar panels it could power 86 houses. The Seaview Vineyard winery, owned by the Yealands Wine Group, has a total of 1314 photovoltaic panels across its roof. The company first had solar panels fitted at its Seddon winery over the course of 2012 and 2013, which at the time was the largest installation in the country before it was surpassed. But the Marlborough wine company, which aims to produce the most sustainable wine in the world, is back in pole position after ​solar power company PowerSmart installed another 918 panels.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Definitive list of what can be recycled at the kerbside published by WRAP
The first ever National Recycling Guidelines have been produced by WRAP. Put together by WRAP with recyclers, local authorities and waste management companies, the guidelines will make it easier for households to recycle more across the UK.

Politics and Society

Unhappy workplaces look a lot like unhappy marriages, new research shows
Three forms of negativity predicted that employees will have a greater intention to leave an organisation one year later: disappointment, strong negativity (such as anger or ridicule) and indirect negativity (like focusing on the negatives in a positive story). Other forms of negativity, like complaints, entitlement and even despair, did not. The method used in this study was adapted from a method that successfully predicts divorce. Reports on this method show that it predicts divorce with over 80%, and sometimes over 90% accuracy. Anyone who ever tried to systematically predict human behaviour knows this kind of success is very rare.

Why the world needs more resilience-thinking to stem escalating crises
2016 may well prove to be a turning point in how humanitarian aid responds to crises. For one, the need is great. Forced migration from conflict is at its highest since the second world war; the number and scale of disasters triggered by natural hazards are increasing; and 2015 was the hottest year ever recorded. The aid sector, largely unchanged in 75 years, is struggling to cope. The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, convened in May to “rethink” aid, acknowledged a “woefully under-resourced humanitarian response” has to “do much more far better”… At such a dramatic time, then, with burgeoning need and an aid system that is failing to cope, what meaning does “resilience” have?

Moratorium on logging Tasmania’s old growth forests could be reversed
AUSTRALIA – Old growth forests in the Tarkine could be logged by private companies under plans being considered by the Tasmanian government to reverse a moratorium on harvesting 400,000ha of high conservation value forests… The minister for resources, Guy Barnett, told state parliament this week that he would investigate the possibility of making the future forest reserves available for logging earlier than 2020 as a way to make troubled state-owned forester, Forestry Tasmania, independently viable.

Prime koala habitat threatened under land clearing proposal: WWF
AUSTRALIA – Proposed loosening of NSW’s land-clearing controls could leave more than a third of the state’s woodlands exposed to bulldozers including prime koala habitat, a report commissioned by WWF-Australia has found.

Built Environment

Preserving historical buildings: the most sustainable thing is not to build new stuff
After grinding grain since 1897, Sydney’s Crago Flour Mill finally cranked to a halt in the mid 80s. Over the years, this handsome industrial Newtown site became rundown, a dusty labyrinth of rooms sprawled over four buildings. Given the job in 2008 of transforming the mill into 47 strata studios, architects Allen Jack+Cottier (AJ+C) made a strategic decision. By refusing to tear down the structure, they saved an estimated 21,000 tonnes of CO2. Preserving embodied energy (the energy consumed by the entire building process) was key, along with avoiding the physical energy needed to destroy a large structure.

12 circular economy case studies from the built environment sector
For all the discussion about the city of the future, it’s hard to imagine how the houses, offices and infrastructure of tomorrow will actually look. To get a better understanding of how the construction industry is supporting the transition to a circular economy, members of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s CE100 network have developed and released a new report detailing leading examples of circular economy innovation in the built environment.

Out in the heat: why poorer suburbs are more at risk in warming cities
Australian cities are getting hotter. The many reasons for this include urban densification policies, climate change and social trends such as bigger houses and apartment living, which leave less space for gardens and trees. But some areas and some residents of cities are more exposed to heat than others.  The concentration of poorer people in hotter places is known as “thermal inequity”. Our recently published research has found this is a real concern on the Gold Coast, one of Australia’s fastest-growing urban regions.

Driverless cars: dream or dystopia?
WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff manager of sustainable transportation Lauren Isaac… who is currently in Australia from the US for the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress, told The Fifth Estate government policy was vital for getting driverless cars to work effectively for everyone, and could mean implementing some strategies that have in the past proved controversial, including road user charges and urban growth boundaries.

Electric cars set to pass 2m landmark globally by end of 2016
The number of plug-in electric cars on the world’s roads is set to pass the landmark of 2m vehicles by the end of 2016, with industry observers saying the electric car revolution is finally underway.


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