Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

The G7 is right to call for fossil fuel phase-out, but it can happen sooner
The G7 nations, at [last] week’s summit in Germany, have called for “a decarbonisation of the global economy over the course of this century”. Of course, this group of nations is among those most heavily in favour of strong climate action, but the opportunities for climate-friendly growth are everywhere. The G7 declaration supports a cut in global emissions at “the upper end” of the 40-70% range by 2050 recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), by “striving for a transformation” in energy production. This call for decarbonisation is the right message, but on the wrong timescale. The low-carbon transformation needs to happen largely by the middle, not the end, of this century.

Good luck G7 leaders – we won’t be off fossil fuels by 2100
The most powerful leaders in the West used the G7 summit in Germany to make a big statement on the environment. Their stated goal is to cut carbon emissions by 40% to 70% by 2050 and then end all fossil-fuel use by 2100. They announced a US$100bn (£65bn) fund by 2020 comprising public and private money to help smooth the transition. My response to David Cameron, Angela Merkel and the rest is pretty simple: good luck with that.

NZ should expect more droughts – climate change issues minister
New Zealand can expect more droughts as climate change hits home, a government minister said this morning. Tim Groser said it wasn’t clear if the current North Canterbury drought was directly linked to carbon emissions but unless humanity solved the ongoing emissions crisis, such destructive weather events were likely to intensify in the years or decades to come. “…The science is very clear on this. The prevalence of these droughts will increase,” he told the Q&A programme on TV One. Mr Groser, the climate change issues minister, discussed the UN Climate Change Conference set for Paris later this year.

Yes, We Can! … Link Weird Weather to Climate Change (Finally)
Scientists are slowly becoming more confident in connecting weird weather events around the world to climate change. Now we need to spread this message so that the world can take action… That’s right, Bill Nye, the science guy, the star of one of my favorite shows as a kid, now a spokesperson for action on climate change, has been tweeting about how weird weather events in Texas and Oklahoma are due to rising global temperatures.

Tesla doubles Powerwall output after criticism
Elon Musk has announced plans to double the capacity of Tesla’s forthcoming Powerwall battery pack – at no extra cost.  Speaking at a shareholder meeting this week, Musk said the Powerwall would undergo the upgrade because he “took some negative feedback to heart” after the May 1 launch. Potential buyers reportedly claimed that the 2 kilowatt hour (kwh) output was not enough to run a standard house. Continuous-use capacity will now go from 2.2kwh to 5kwh, while at peak usage, the system will be able to deliver 7kwh.

How to sail through space on sunbeams – solar satellite leads the way
A new kind of spacecraft that sails on sunlight has just been successfully deployed above Earth. The LightSail satellite yesterday overcame a series of glitches to unfurl its solar sails, a propulsion system that’s entirely different to traditional rockets, thrusters or even solar panels.

Environment and Biodiversity

Polishing the crown jewels – Sam Judd
NEW ZEALAND – The Hauraki Gulf Marine Park is the crown jewel of Auckland’s tourism industry. From the highly successful urban developments of the Wynyard quarter to the ‘treasure’ islands the small islands of which Auckland Tourism describes as “a reflection of the high premium which Kiwis place on keeping their natural environment ‘clean and green'”. An Auckland Council study carried out in 2012 found that Tourism in the Hauraki Gulf alone has a value of $937 million and creates employment for 15,742 people.… The Hauraki Gulf has a myriad of challenges affecting it and while plenty has been made of the rubbish which pours into the catchment, the biggest problem is the tainted water.… Do you have any ideas on what we could do to clean up the Hauraki Gulf? If so, please leave a comment or email me.

Polar bears are now eating dolphins thanks to climate change
Climate change is going to screw up everyone’s diets. For humans, that means less chocolate and more Washington Sauvignon. Strange dietary changes have already affected the oft-symbolized face of global warming, polar bears. For the first time ever, Arctic polar bears were seen feasting on white-beaked dolphins.

The deadly poison lurking in a frog the size of your fingernail
The unexplored regions of the world continue to shrink. Satellites are able to give us previews of places humans have never been and fewer and fewer native tribes remain uncontacted. It’s not just undiscovered humans, though; seven new species of tiny frogs – the size of your fingernails – were recently discovered on seven different mountains in south-eastern Brazil… One of the most interesting features of many of these frogs is their orange skin colour, warning predators of the poisonous molecule they contain for their defence against bigger foes. The poisonous molecule they contain is well known and goes by the name of tetrodotoxin.  The lethal dose to a human is a fraction of a milligram – it’s many times more poisonous than cyanide.

The week in wildlife – in pictures
Blue-throated bee-eaters, world’s smallest deer and a tiger out on a walk after rains feature in this week’s pick of images from the natural world

A southern pudu fawn, world’s smallest deer species, walks in its enclosure at the Queens zoo in New York. Southern pudus are about a foot tall at the shoulder. At birth they’re six inches high, and weigh less than a pound.

A southern pudu fawn, world’s smallest deer species, walks in its enclosure at the Queens zoo in New York. Southern pudus are about a foot tall at the shoulder. At birth they’re six inches high, and weigh less than a pound.
Photograph: Julie Larsen Maher/WCS/AP

Economy and Business

Turning a bad reputation round can take years of good leadership
In 2011, Asia Pulp and Paper’s reputation was in tatters. Thanks to an aggressive Greenpeace campaign, the Indonesian business went from the world’s biggest pulp and paper company to a brand better known for destroying pristine rainforest and driving species to the brink of extinction… But how does a company whose name has been dragged through the proverbial mud win back the public’s trust? And how do you ensure that a values clean-up is more than just greenwash?

UN: Businesses initiatives can save 630m tonnes of CO2
Ambitious climate action from the world’s largest corporations could save 630m tonnes of CO2e in 2020, according to new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  Climate Commitments of Subnational Actors and Business analysed the emissions-reduction potential of corporate-supported initiatives such as RE100 or CDP’s Supply Chain. Even though less than a quarter of the world’s biggest companies are signed up to these initiatives, they are still expected to save 630m tonnes of CO2e in 2020.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Could a circular economy save oceans from plastic waste?
Research published in Science earlier this year estimated that some 5m to 12m tonnes of plastics enter our oceans every year, equivalent to 1.5% to 4.5% of the world’s total plastic production.  Left unaddressed, Andreas Merkl CEO of the Ocean Conservancy warns that we could be headed for 1kg of plastic for every 3kg of fish. A daunting prospect given that plastics have already been found inside animals across the food chain, from mussels and fish to sea turtles and whales… Would moving to a circular economy – where materials are recovered, recycled and reused – present a more effective way to tackle ocean waste?

Fishermen prepare to fish, amidst floating garbage off the shore of Manila Bay during World Oceans Day in Paranaque, Metro Manila in 2013. Photograph: ERIK DE CASTRO/REUTERS

Fishermen prepare to fish, amidst floating garbage off the shore of Manila Bay during World Oceans Day in Paranaque, Metro Manila in 2013. Photograph: ERIK DE CASTRO/REUTERS

Politics and Society

Kiwi masterminds fast-track to charitable funding
There is a culture of generosity being sparked on social media, and GoodWorld founder Dale Nirvani Pfeifer is at the forefront of this. The New Zealander from Invercargill has spent the last few years navigating the corridors of influence from her Washington DC base, working with the likes of Congress and the Rockefeller Foundation, before launching her own start-up which is, in the words of President Obama, “…a big opportunity for philanthropy – sort of like crowdsourcing for a good cause.”

McKibben to Obama: You still have time to be a climate champion — but not much
In an open letter to President Obama, Bill McKibben argues that the White House should take strong steps to change the carbon game — right now.

McKibben to Clinton: Now it’s really time to get serious about climate change
In an open letter to Hillary Clinton, Bill McKibben lays out exactly why she needs to put climate change at the center of her campaign — and how she can win with it.

Pope gets political in green cause
Stand by for an unholy row as the Pope comes out as perhaps the world’s most effective environmental campaigner. On Thursday, Pope Francis will issue the first-ever encyclical on the environment. The most authoritative document a Pontiff can publish, this encyclical is also the first to try to influence a global political process. It is unapologetically aimed at helping to forge global agreement to tackle climate change at a special summit in Paris in December.

OECD talks to phase out coal subsidies end in stalemate
Talks on phasing out a form of coal subsidies have ended in stalemate as Japan, the biggest user of the aid, led calls for more time in defiance of this week’s G7 pledge on fossil fuel subsidies, sources said. The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has been trying for a year to get an agreement from its 34 member nations on phasing out export credits for coal, the most polluting of the fossil fuels.

The real science on wind farms, noise, infrasound and health
AUSTRALIA – In a radio interview [last week], Prime Minister Tony Abbott raised what he described as the “potential health impacts” of wind farms. [An] article in The Australian by Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonjhelm highlighted some very good points about wind turbine noise and its effect on people living near them. People are complaining of a range of health related problems and are attributing them to wind turbines. The question is: what is the cause of these health problems? Many blame the production of infrasound from wind turbines, yet this has not been proven to date. What is needed is new, comprehensive research to determine the true cause.

10 things we learned about Tony Abbott’s war on renewables
50 Shades of Grit: Tony Abbott wants new coal generators and now admits he wants to kill the renewable energy target – and he may be just one vote away from being able to do so. That has serious implications, because it will likely extend the uncertainty that has plagued the clean energy industry in the past 18 months.

Australia needs politically active environmental groups
Should environmental groups that engage in public debate lose their tax-free status? That’s the focus of a hotly disputed inquiry currently being considered by the Australian government — specifically, by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment. Many green groups rely on tax-deductible donations from private citizens and small donors to sustain their work. In Australia, some 600 groups on the environmental register currently qualify. This is comparable to schemes in Europe and the United States, and was initiated to allow citizens and corporations to fund organisations that engage in issues of public interest.

Built Environment

Electric car sales accelerate by 366%
A record 9,000 new ultra low emission vehicles (ULEVs) were registered in the UK in the first quarter of 2015.  The figures, published today (11 June) by the Department of Transport, represent a 366% year-on-year surge. The department said the increase was driven by more vehicles being eligible for grants, which subsidise up to 35% of the cost of a plug-in car and 20% of the cost of a plug-in van.


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