Sustainable Development News

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

Company ordered to pay record $76m over fires in Sumatra
Indonesian President Joko Widodo scored a victory in his campaign to prosecute haze-causing companies on Thursday with the ruling by a Jakarta district court against PT National Sago Prima (NSP), which was ordered to pay a record 1 trillion rupiah ($76 million) for letting fires ravage land it controls in 2014. The panel of judges agreed with government prosecutors that the plantation firm was guilty of negligence in failing to prevent the fires which helped blanket the region in a toxic haze. 

Energy and Climate Change 

People power is the secret to reliable, clean energy
Australia’s energy watchdog, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), has issued a stark warning: more wind and solar power will demand new approaches to avoid interruptions to electricity supply. In its annual Electricity Statement of Opportunities, released this week, AEMO indicated that the overall outlook for reliability has improved. So far, so good. However, South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales are potentially at greater risk of interruptions within ten years if the current trend of shutting down old coal-fired power stations accelerates, as we can expect from Australia’s efforts to meet national and international climate targets. The threat of power blackouts is reliable headline fodder as seen in yesterday’s Australian Financial Review. But the solution to this very real challenge is not to cling to ageing fossil fuel power stations.

Large-scale solar could meet two-thirds of Australia’s renewable target
As much as two-thirds of the 6GW of new-build renewable generation still needed to meet Australia’s 2020 renewable energy target could come from large-scale solar, according to First Solar’s head of project management in the Asia Pacific region, Jack Curtis. In an interview with RenewEconomy on Thursday, Curtis said that the investment environment for large-scale solar in Australia was the most positive First Solar had witnessed since entering the market a few years ago.

Australia’s first commercial EV fast-charging stations rolled out in Qld
Australia’s first commercial electric vehicle charging stations are being rolled across five sites in Queensland, using the state’s home-grown Veefil fast charger technology by Brisbane company Tritium. The stations, the first of which has been installed at the Noosa Blue Resort in Noosa Heads, are being developed by ASX-listed energy retailer Locality Planning Energy, and will offer electric vehicle battery recharging at a rate 25 times faster than a standard home charger, but for the same cost.

Environment and Biodiversity 

Small world: does ecology reach all the way down to the subatomic scale?
Imagine you could stop being human-sized for a while and shrink down to the size of a bacterium, roughly one-millionth of your current stature. At this scale, you would stop being bound by gravity and instead discover that viscosity is the dominant factor, making the air feel more like swimming through a gloopy swamp. Hordes of your fellow bacteria buzz past, powered by reversible rotary motors that propel them at up to 20 times their body length per second. That’s the kind of speed that, relatively speaking, you would need a motor to achieve in the human world. Food is easy to find; nutrients simply land on your surface via molecular diffusion. Other aspects of bacterial life are perhaps more familiar: bacteria, just like larger creatures, are hunted down by predators and plagued by pathogens.

Nuclear physics uses single feather to track and help save Australian waterbirds
Scientists are using nuclear physics to track and potentially save Australia’s declining waterbird numbers — and they are doing it with discarded feathers… Project leader Kate Brandis wants the public to get involved. She wants you to send her as many waterbird feathers as possible. “So when they go travelling around Australia or visit their local wetlands if they see any feathers on the ground or in the water, pick them up and post them in to us so that we can analyse them and add them to our feather map,” she said.

New $5m fund to help clean up gulf
NEW ZEALAND – The most recent environmental stocktake of the gulf paints a grim picture: snapper and crayfish populations slashed by three-quarters, and development and intensive agriculture heaping more pressure on estuaries and coastlines already affected by sediment and chemical run-off. With the gulf region’s population expected to grow to 2.3 million people by 2031, authorities and groups have urgently been trying to find ways to address environmental impacts…

Tasmanian toxic algal bloom hits biggest ever area, says industry
AUSTRALIA – More shellfish growing areas are closed than ever before in Tasmania due to algal blooms, according to industry leaders. Ten growing areas have been shut down because of toxic algae, extending from St Helens down the east coast to Frederick Henry Bay in the south east and Dover in the south. No wild shellfish should be collected from the affected regions. More than 50 producers cannot sell or harvest their produce and have to wait for two clean results before they can re-start operations.

Carpageddon plan ‘could kill native fish’
AUSTRALIA – Using a herpes virus to wipe out European carp plaguing the Murray River could ultimately kill off native fish as well, a researcher warns. The plan, dubbed “Carpageddon”, is slated to begin in late 2018 and will eradicate 95 per cent of the pest’s population over the next 30 years. While the virus doesn’t affect other fish, University of Adelaide research shows that decomposing carp, if they’re left in the water, will dissolve oxygen levels. And this will endanger native species such as Murray cod and silver perch, as well as crustaceans.

Deer hunters want more access to Victorian wilderness, amid warnings of feral ‘crisis point’
AUSTRALIA – Shooters want more wilderness areas opened up to deer hunting, as conservationists warn the problem caused by the feral animal in Victoria has reached crisis point. Recreational hunters are making their push for more land as part of the current state parliamentary inquiry into invasive animals on crown land.


Changes would keep the Lindis River flowing
NEW ZEALAND – Otago Regional Council has backed recommendations to ensure Lindis River still flows in the summer months.
  A minimum flow of 900 litres per second be will be set for the river between October and May beginning 2021 as part of a wider plan that considers water allocation in the area. The council’s policy and resource planning director, Fraser McRae, said the river historically dried out over summer months because of heavy extraction by farmers for irrigation. 

Economy and Business 

Fonterra to stop sourcing palm products from rainforest destroyers
After pressure from environmental groups, Fonterra has pledged to source its palm products from suppliers who do not cut down rainforests. The announcement follows one earlier this week from Landcorp, which said it was stopping all use of palm kernel expeller (PKE) on its dairy farms from June 2017.

New Zealand zoos ask for choice on palm oil labelling
New Zealand’s biggest zoos have united behind a campaign demanding clear labelling of palm oil in food products. The Unmask Palm Oil campaign has secured the backing of Christchurch’s Orana Wildlife Park, Wellington Zoo, Hamilton Zoo and Auckland Zoo… It was aimed at lobbying the trans-Tasman ministers who sat on the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum for Food Regulation, who vote on the issue on November 25.

What’s the buzz about business and bees? (Book Excerpt)
Pollinator decline is not solely a governmental or individual problem but one which urgently requires a multi-organizational solution. Corporations have both a social and economic responsibility to assist in developing this solution. 

Politics and Society 

Josh Frydenberg’s approach to environment and energy
AUSTRALIA – The new minister for the environment and energy, Josh Frydenberg, is ready to balance his portfolios and disappoint critics on the left and right. 

It’ll do a power of good for Australia to shift to electric vehicles
When the federal energy and environment minister starts talking about electric vehicles, you know the tide has turned. Last month Josh Frydenberg said governments at all levels needed to look at how electric vehicles could play a “greater role” in modern cities. Just as happened with rooftop solar and is happening with batteries and battery home storage, the EV transition is now under way, but a stronger policy framework from all levels of government is needed for the full transition to take place.

Australia ‘has lost moral compass’ over immigration detention: New Zealand opposition
International outrage about Australia’s treatment of people held in immigration detention on Nauru and Manus Island is growing, as senior British and New Zealand politicians question the Turnbull government’s approach amid revelations of abuse, sexual violence and self-harm.

Survey: two-thirds of Great Barrier Reef tourists want to ‘see it before it’s gone’
The health of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is declining – a fact that has not been lost on the world’s media. The issue has made international headlines and attracted comment from public figures such as US President Barack Obama and British businessman Richard Branson… When we surveyed hundreds of GBR tourists last year, 69% of them said they had opted to visit the reef “before it is gone” – and that was before the latest bleaching generated fresh international headlines about its plight.

Food Systems 

Can we feed 10 billion people on organic farming alone?
[A] study, Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century, published in
Nature Plants, is the first to compare organic and conventional agriculture across the four main metrics of sustainability identified by the US National Academy of Sciences: be productive, economically profitable, environmentally sound and socially just. Like a chair, for a farm to be sustainable, it needs to be stable, with all four legs being managed so they are in balance.


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