Sustainable Development News

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

Biodiversity is below safe levels across more than half of world’s land – study
Analysing 1.8m records from 39,123 sites across Earth, the international study found that a measure of the intactness of biodiversity at sites has fallen below a safety limit across 58.1% of the world’s land. Under a proposal put forward by experts last year, a site losing more than 10% of its biodiversity is considered to have passed a precautionary threshold, beyond which the ecosystem’s ability to function could be compromised.

Energy and Climate Change

Pacific islands nations consider world’s first treaty to ban fossil fuels
The world’s first international treaty that bans or phases out fossil fuels is being considered by leaders of developing Pacific islands nations after a summit in the Solomon Islands this week. The leaders of 14 countries agreed to consider a proposed Pacific climate treaty, which would bind signatories to targets for renewable energy and ban new or the expansion of coalmines, at the annual leaders’ summit of the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF).

Australia’s energy sector is in critical need of reform
Over the next few decades Australia, like many countries, faces the prospect of an energy transformation that will challenge every aspect of stationary and transport energy: from production, transmission and distribution to consumption and exports. The ultimate imperative is to move our economy to a low-carbon footing, while ensuring that consumers don’t pay unnecessarily high costs.

Environment and Biodiversity

How GPS Can Help Save the World’s Most Endangered Sea Turtles
Hawksbill sea turtles, named for their pointed beaks, are teetering on the edge of extinction. They face seemingly insurmountable threats: a thriving illegal trade in their shells, poaching of their eggs, hunting for their meat, beach erosion and human development at their nesting sites, and degradation of coral reefs where they forage. We don’t know exactly how many hawksbills are left. Counting them is complicated because they come ashore to nest only once every two to seven years, and when they do, they usually gather in small concentrations.

Pigeons flee Canterbury University falcon, and another on the way
NEW ZEALAND – A trained falcon has chased away more than half the pigeons from the University of Canterbury – and another bird may be on the way.  The university and falcon trainers want to get that number up to 100 per cent. Meanwhile, Lincoln University is looking at getting in on the deal. Tappe the karearea, or New Zealand falcon, was born in captivity and hand-raised by the Marlborough Falcon Conservation Trust.

Massive boost in numbers for New Zealand’s critically endangered kakapo flightless parrot
New Zealand and the world’s most unusual parrot has just experienced a record-breaking breeding season, producing 34 chicks of the fabulous cute-as but extremely rare and still critically endangered species of land bird… In the 1970s only 18 kakapo were known to exist, all in Fiordland, and unfortunately all male, their low-frequency mating booms travelling for kilometres and finding no female answering call. Then, in 1977, a population of male and female kakapo was discovered on Stewart Island, giving new hope.

School pupils trap pests in backyards
NEW ZEALAND – Pupils are getting the best of pests in their back gardens. Leigh School’s senior class has kept busy this term learning about New Zealand pests, and more importantly, how to trap them. Working with Forest Bridge Trust expert Liz Maire, the pupils have been getting hands on experience with tracking strips pest traps.

Pressure to ban fishing of longfin eels rises, as industry faces upheaval
Longfin eels are the largest and longest-lived freshwater eel in the world.  They are only found in New Zealand, where they have existed for over 20 million years, woven into Maori legends of serpent-like taniwha creeping through rivers and darkened caves. Despite being an at-risk species with the same classification as kereru and great spotted Kiwi, longfins are still fished commercially. They have been sold overseas in luxury cat food.

Skipper faces fine for albatross deaths
NEW ZEALAND – A commercial fisherman is facing a fine of up to $100,000 and could lose his boat because of the deaths of 38 albatrosses.  The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is taking action against the man who is accused of failing to use a mandatory device designed to scare birds away from baited hooks… The Ministry for the Environment’s landmark environment report  released last year said fishing by-catch is the main pressure on seabirds.


What You Need to Know About the World’s Water Wars
Beijing is sinking. In some neighborhoods, the ground is giving way at a rate of four inches a year as water in the giant aquifer below it is pumped. The groundwater has been so depleted that China’s capital city, home to more than 20 million people, could face serious disruptions in its rail system, roadways, and building foundations, an international team of scientists concluded earlier this year. Beijing, despite tapping into the gigantic North China Plain aquifer, is the world’s fifth most water-stressed city and its water problems are likely to get even worse. Beijing isn’t the only place experiencing subsidence, or sinking, as soil collapses into space created as groundwater is depleted.

A shepherd drinks water on the dry bed of Manjara Dam, which supplies water to Latur and nearby villages in the Indian state of Maharashtra. India has been enduring a severe drought, which has forced millions of farmers to rely more heavily on groundwater, which has been pumped out more rapidly than it can be naturally replenished.

A shepherd drinks water on the dry bed of Manjara Dam, which supplies water to Latur and nearby villages in the Indian state of Maharashtra. India has been enduring a severe drought, which has forced millions of farmers to rely more heavily on groundwater, which has been pumped out more rapidly than it can be naturally replenished.
Photograph by Manish Swarup, AP

Economy and Business

Project JUST Platform Expanding to Meet Demand for Ethical Fashion – and It Needs Your Help
Project JUST, an online platform that reviews fashion brands (75 to date) for their supply chain ethics and sustainability to help consumers make more informed choices, is crowdfunding to help expand its offering. Project JUST publishes shopping guides of the most ethical brands under its JUST APPROVED™ seal. The 30-day Indiegogo campaign, titled “Let’s Change the Way We Shop,” will fund the research of 100 additional brands, 12 new JUST APPROVED™ lists and the development of the organization’s seal of approval.

The pitfalls of putting a price on nature: What’s next for natural capital?
The United Kingdom is the latest locale to take a closer look at how putting a price on nature might figure into government policy. In September, the government pledged to produce a 25-year environment plan to lay out how the U.K. can best ensure a “healthy natural economy.” Soon after the announcement, environment secretary Liz Truss argued that Britain’s forests, soil and rivers should be valued as “national assets” in the same way man-made infrastructure is, suggesting they were worth at least $2.1 trillion to the country. But the idea of putting a price on the so-called ecosystem services provided by nature has been controversial from the start.

Ben & Jerry’s and Ford are embracing climate disruption – and your company needs to, as well
Businesses intent solely on driving manufacturing efficiencies in their operations and tweaking logistics and packaging will not take us to the 80-90 percent GHG reductions needed by 2050. Companies limiting themselves to these approaches will find themselves displaced by startups with new models or competitors with a more comprehensive strategy based on product innovation.

Inside the Rockefeller Foundation’s climate finance strategy
The Rockefeller Foundation coined the phrase “impact investing.” It has made pioneering efforts in venture philanthropy, supporting market-based ideas with the potential to solve global challenges. Envisioning the urgent need to channel capital into innovative solutions around climate change and renewable energy, the organization leverages its experience to experiment with new forms of investments.

Three-quarters of UK construction firms operate a low-carbon strategy
New research has revealed that the UK construction industry recognises its long-term duty to the environment, with 75% of companies now operating a low-carbon or carbon reduction strategy. The survey of 149 construction firms conducted by leading publishing and marketing services business TomTom Telematics also revealed that 58% regularly monitor their carbon footprint, while 51% of construction operators claim that their clients require them to record and act on carbon emissions as key performance indicators.

Solar power industry drives up silver, lithium prices
The consumer-led power revolution driving a rapid uptake of rooftop solar panels and lithium-ion batteries to store electricity is creating new uses for metals which have long languished in the doldrums. Silver and lithium have so far been the star performers with both experiencing big price jumps in recent months.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Scientists call for better plastics design to protect marine life
Plastics should be better designed to encourage recycling and prevent wasteful single-use containers finding their way into our oceans, where they break up into small pieces and are swallowed by marine animals, scientists said on Thursday.

From field to fork: the six stages of wasting food
Every second, an amount of food equal to the weight of a sedan car is thrown away in the US – about 60m tonnes a year… We trace the lifecycle of six popular foodstuffs from farm to fork to get to the root of why so much is wasted.

France bans food waste from supermarkets
France has banned supermarkets from throwing away unwanted food, and the ruling could lead to wider action on food waste across Europe. In July, 600 Members of the European Parliament against 48 voted in favour of bringing forward new laws that would end unfair trading practices by supermarkets to avoid overproduction and food waste.

Trending: Yet More Actions to Redistribute, Reduce, Recycle Food Waste in the UK
Found to be the worst-performing European country in terms of food waste in a 2015 study, the United Kingdom (UK) certainly seems to be setting a new course. Over the past year, numerous initiatives have been launched in the fight against food waste, including a TV show, zero-waste restaurants and ales, a one-of-a-kind Mr Potato Head and even a town for testing waste-reducing ideas. And just in the past week, a campaign to boost local food waste-to-energy was launched, a five-point action plan for reducing household and commercial food waste was released, and a grocer expanded its redistribution trials for frozen and perishable food.

Politics and Society

Changing the world one online petition at a time: how social activism went mainstream
If you have recently signed an online petition – and then observed a result from it – you are far from alone. Once niche, websites such as, and have moved into the mainstream, shifting influence from organisations into the hands of individuals and fundamentally changing the way business and government respond to “people power”. The use of petition websites has given individuals the immediate ability to become social activists, and coupled with social media, an unprecedented ability to force companies to amend the ways they operate.

Pacific atolls ‘could be underwater by 2050’
The government is being warned to prepare for an impending stream of refugees from the Pacific as low-lying atolls are swamped by sea-level rise over the coming decades. Labour is also calling for the government to take a humanitarian approach to people from the region who are overstayers in New Zealand.

The new rise of Nauru: can the island bounce back from its mining boom and bust?
Nauru’s troubled history has seen it fall from being one of the world’s richest nations, on a per capita basis, to a society plagued by financial mismanagement and corruption. Yet despite its tragic back story, this tiny country of just over 10,000 citizens may well be poised for a comeback. During a recent visit to research possible sustainable development pathways, I became cautiously optimistic about the country’s trajectory.

South China Sea ruling slams China for poaching, reef destruction
On July 12, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea upheld the Philippine government’s challenge to China’s sweeping claim that it had “since time immemorial” ruled the seas between Hainan and Singapore. Media attention of course focused on how the Tribunal’s rulings would impact the festering confrontation between Beijing and a disparate group of countries that have been threatened or dismayed by its expansionist claims.


Reactions to the new UK Prime Minister’s cabinet reshuffle:

Built Environment

Value capture proposal puts high-speed rail on the agenda
AUSTRALIA – A who’s who of leading business and political leaders are behind a private sector consortium that has launched a high-speed rail proposal that will span Sydney to Melbourne, and which would require no public finance to deliver. The proponents, Consolidated Land and Rail Australia (CLARA), said that if the latest HSR trains were used, commuters would have travel times between Sydney and Melbourne of around two hours. A crucial part of the plan involves constructing new cities along the route that could take the pressure off Sydney and Melbourne regarding affordability and sprawl.

Solar Impulse: We’ll see solar-powered passenger planes within 10 years
The co-pilots and founders of Solar Impulse – the remarkable solar powered plane that is making a ground-breaking flight around the world – have made a stunning prediction: There will be short-haul electric planes for up to 50 people operating within 10 years.


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