Sustainable Development News

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

Beavers are worth $1b a year, yet still our economy grossly undervalues nature
Last week saw an unusual addition to some of the world’s top financial publications, as BBC Earth published its Earth Index in the Wall Street Journal, The Times, the Singapore Business Times, and the Economic Times of India. Containing some familiar examples of the economic value of nature (according to the index, bees are worth A$222 billion a year to the global economy) and some not-so-familiar ones (beavers, evidently, make an annual contribution worth more than A$1 billion), it backs up the idea that nature is worth far more than the global market economy.

[Ed: More inspiring stories on ecosystem services in the Environment and Biodiversity section below]

Energy and Climate Change

Exxon’s climate lie: ‘No corporation has ever done anything this big or bad’ | Bill McKibben
In the last three weeks, two separate teams of journalists — the Pulitzer-prize winning reporters at the website Inside Climate News and another crew composed of Los Angeles Times veterans and up-and-comers at the Columbia Journalism School — have begun publishing the results of a pair of independent investigations into ExxonMobil.  Though they draw on completely different archives, leaked documents, and interviews with ex-employees, they reach the same damning conclusion: Exxon knew all that there was to know about climate change decades ago, and instead of alerting the rest of us denied the science and obstructed the politics of global warming.

Adani looks to build large scale solar farm in Queensland coal country
Adani, the Indian company looking to develop the controversial mega-coal mining project in the Galilee Basin, appears to have been quietly developing plans to build a large scale solar plant in the heart of Queensland’s major coal region, the Bowen Basin. RenewEconomy has learned that Adani executives have been meeting with landowners in the Isaac Regional Council to find out if they are interested in doing a deal to host a large solar farm. There is no word on the scale of the project, or if it will go ahead.

Norwegian PM demands global carbon price
Erna Solberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister, has called on the world to immediately set a global carbon price and phase out fossil fuel subsidies in order to better drive investment in low carbon technologies. Speaking at a conference hosted by the Norwegian British Chamber of Commerce in London today, Solberg argued Norway’s 26 year old carbon tax had been crucial in helping to drive development of “climate friendly” technologies.

Reports: Engie to end coal investments, says French ecology minister
Engie, the energy provider part-owned by the French government, could end its investments in coal projects as part of efforts to tackle climate change, energy and ecology minister Segolene Royal reportedly announced today. According to Le Figaro and AFP, Engie, formally known as GDF Suez, will withdraw its investments in coal as a result of a government decision to end subsidies for the carbon intensive fuel source.

CEFC’s Yates says solar-to-hydrogen fuel cheaper than petrol in regions
Clean Energy Finance Corporation chief executive Oliver Yates says he is a big fan of hydrogen energy, and believes that right now solar-to-hydrogen fuels in regional Australia would be cheaper at the pump than petrol. All that is missing are the hydrogen fuel cell cars and a refuelling network.

Victorian couple refused grid connection, turn to solar, wind and storage
AUSTRLAIA – When a neighbour refused to allow a power pole to be erected on their land, Helmut and Sue Woerner were unable to connect their rural property to the electricity grid. However, with a bit of persistence, some further education and a lot of innovation, the couple were able to enjoy their country paradise with more than enough power.

Spring coming earlier in US because of climate change, scientists say
Scientists have confirmed what gardeners have long suspected: spring is coming much earlier in the US, with plants projected to bud three weeks earlier by the end of the century because of climate change… The findings, published on Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters, suggest even bigger shifts in the plant calendar due to climate change than had been expected.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Bill Gates calls fossil fuel divestment a ‘false solution’
Bill Gates has branded fossil fuel divestment “a false solution” and accused environmentalists of making misleading claims about the price of solar power. In an interview with US magazine the Atlantic, the founder of Microsoft and the Gates foundation criticised the global movement that has seen pension funds, universities, churches and local governments commit to pulling $2.6tn out of coal, oil and gas companies.

Environment and Biodiversity

Bats are worth $3.7bn to US agriculture
California almond grower Glenn Anderson never paid much attention to the bats in his barn, or in his orchard, before the non-profit Bat Conservancy of Coastal California showed up in his part of the Central Valley a few years ago offering farmers bat houses… Anderson’s orchard has been certified organic for close to 30 years. He says his neighbours seemed to constantly be spraying for navel orange worm and peach twig borer – moths that tend to work in tandem and infest almond kernels – while he had never had a problem with them. “I started to wonder how much work the bats were doing,” he says.

Native pollinators attract attention as landholders and community understand their value
AUSTRALIA – When conservation educator and bee specialist Dr Megan Halcroft moved west over the New South Wales Blue Mountains to a tiny village near Lithgow two years ago, she took her expertise in native pollinators with her. While previously she worked to conserve native pollinators in coastal areas, she has now refocused her efforts and research to the central west of New South Wales. It was in this food bowl area, rich with orchards, vineyards and other agricultural crops, that Dr Halcroft said native pollinators played a vital part.  But their role is often misunderstood and their survival threatened.

A 'bee hotel', stuffed with sticks, clay-filled besser blocks and bundles of plant material made by students at Lithgow High School. (ABC Central West: Melanie Pearce)

A ‘bee hotel’, stuffed with sticks, clay-filled besser blocks and bundles of plant material made by students at Lithgow High School. (ABC Central West: Melanie Pearce)

‘The Best Ideas Might Not Be Ours’: DiCaprio Produces Film on Biomimicry
As more and more organizations with sustainability missions are discovering, getting a celebrity to help spread your message could be the difference between creating a tiny ripple and engaging millions around the world . Now the remarkably simple and often overlooked idea of innovation inspired by nature – biomimicry – could see a surge in interest thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio, who has become something of an environmental activist in recent years. The actor has produced a short film called Biomimicry, released last week by Tree Media Group and narrated by Biomimicry Institute founder Janine Benyus, which presents examples of biomimetic design and innovations from around the world.

Remember the Amazon? It’s more dead than you thought
A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that widespread deforestation in the Amazon has led to increased local temperatures, which has then exacerbated a drought in the area. The study says that by the end of the century, the area affected by the drought will have tripled in size — which is a lot of dead trees.

Some of New Zealand’s ‘postcard’ views being lost to private hands
Some of New Zealand’s most iconic landscapes are being placed into private ownership, leaving locals fearful they will lose their unique surroundings. Irishman Creek is one of several high country stations in the Mackenzie Basin undergoing a tenure review by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ). The station’s golden tussock hills provide sweeping views of Aoraki/Mt Cook along an 8 kilometre stretch of the state highway.

The golden tussocks seen here at Irishman Creek could be placed into private ownership.

The golden tussocks seen here at Irishman Creek could be placed into private ownership.


Mixed reaction to Qld Government releasing Great Artesian Basin water
News the Queensland Government will soon release water from the Great Artesian Basin has received a mixed response. Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham has announced more than 18,000 megalitres of water will be available to boost industry and help drought-affected producers across Queensland. The Great Artesian Basin underlies more than 1.7 million square kilometres of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory, and stores about 64,000 million megalitres of water.

Economy and Business

Why some companies are becoming environmental activists
Clothing brand Patagonia gives 1% of its sales “to support environmental organisations around the world”. Carpet-maker Interface takes an “aggressive approach” to reach its goal to source 100% of its “energy needs from renewable sources by 2020”. Nudie Jeans meanwhile, repairs, reuses and recycles its denim products, as well as using organic cotton to produce them in the first place. So, what’s going on? After decades of activists campaigning against companies’ poor environmental records, are companies suddenly becoming environmental activists themselves?

The Making of Fairphone 2 (or How to Design Products to Tell Sustainability Stories)
“I want our new phone to be a storytelling product.” This was the exciting and daunting challenge laid down to us by Fairphone CEO Bas van Abel, just over a year ago, in the first briefing for their new ethical phone handset design. We simultaneously whooped and gulped in equal measure. First of all, Fairphone is ‘building a movement for fairer electronics’ and it’s not everyday our clients come to us with such lofty sustainability ambitions…

Tasmanian sustainable viticulture scheme to strengthen sector
Tasmania’s wine industry is looking to assure its future with a new framework for sustainable viticulture. Good environmental credentials are an important ingredient for the state’s vineyards, which occupy some of the most picturesque parts of the island.  Wine Tasmania’s scheme covers financial, environmental and social sustainability measures, but is simpler than the existing Entwine Australia environmental assurance program.

Skeleton Tech’s Graphene-Based Ultracapacitors Could Revolutionize Long-Life Storage
Out of 37 nominated startups, Skeleton Technologies won the Gold ECO15 London Award at the Ecosummit 2015 conference. The company manufactures high-performance, graphene-based ultracapacitors — energy storage devices with much higher power and longer life cycles than batteries. Skeleton Tech is the only ultracapacitor manufacturer to use graphene in their cells, enabling them to deliver twice the energy density an five times the power density of competitors’ products. The company uses patented nanoporous carbide-derived carbon, or ‘curved graphene’ layers, allowing for better conductivity and higher surface area.

Climate Smart-Tech Improving Livelihoods of Kenyan Women Farmers
Equator Kenya, a food-processing company that produces African Bird’s Eye Chilies for export, has joined the Business Call to Action (BCtA) with a commitment to provide climate-smart technologies, training and market linkages to 8,000 smallholder farmers along the Kenyan coast. This business is designed to reduce the crop risks posed by climate change, which will help increase incomes among the farmers — 6,000 of whom are women — as well as improve crop yields and quality.

Toyota aims to nearly eliminate gasoline cars by 2050
Toyota, under new environmental targets, will be selling hardly any regular gasoline vehicles by 2050, only hybrids and fuel cells, to radically reduce emissions. Toyota Motor Corp. announced its ambitious vision at a Tokyo museum Wednesday, promising to push governments, affiliated companies and other “stakeholders” to by 2050 reduce average emissions from Toyota cars by 90 percent compared with 2010 levels.

Garnaut, CEFC push hydrogen to make Australia renewable power-house
Leading economist Professor Ross Garnaut and two government renewable energy agencies are championing the use of hydrogen to exploit Australia’s massive solar and wind resources. They say it would make Australia a renewable energy powerhouse, allowing to build huge arrays of solar fields, and creating an export industry of “solar fuels” to northern Asia that would rival the coal and gas export industries.

Remote Qld resort taps solar, starting with PV-powered tourist boats
AUSTRALIA – An eco-resort in remote western Queensland has invested in the development of two solar-powered boats to enhance the sight-seeing experience of its tourists while also protecting the natural environment and boosting its profits.

Waste and the Circular Economy

WRAP launches €2.1m project to explore commercial opportunities of electronic waste recovery
A new EU-funded project is to explore the commercial opportunities for recovering critical raw materials (CRMs) and precious metals from electronic waste. The CRM Recovery project will study processes for recovering raw materials and precious metals including gold, silver and platinum group metals from everyday electronic products that have reached the end of their life. Led by waste advisory charity WRAP, the project will take place over three and a half years and aims to increase the recovery from waste electronics of several different CRMs by five per cent.

Fremantle plastic bag ban blocked in WA Parliament for second time
The City of Fremantle’s bid to ban single-use plastic shopping bags has again been thwarted by Western Australia’s Parliament, with the Legislative Council passing a disallowance motion for a second time.

Politics and Society

Author Unlocks the Realities of a Mythic Arctic Sea Route (Book Talk)
For centuries, it was a chimera on the horizon of European dreams: a mythic sea-route through the Arctic that could link the riches of Asia to Europe. But even after the Northwest Passage had been charted, unless you had a nuclear-powered icebreaker, it remained firmly closed. Now, this mythic land and its resources is being unlocked by global warming. So when Canadian author Kathleen Winter was invited on a scientific expedition to explore the passage, she jumped at the chance. In Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage, she explores the new realities of the North where Inuit are used as “human flagpoles” and the world’s superpowers are poised to make a land grab for the Arctic’s resources.

Food insecurity is a reality for millions of South Africans living in informal settlements
Up to 70% of households in South Africa’s informal settlements skip meals or eat the same meal on most days. The breadwinners also regularly struggle to provide meals or worry about having no food or money to buy food. And households with children are even more likely to face this dilemma of food insecurity. Our research found that the levels of food security remains significantly high in the country – despite it being a basic human right. Although we conducted the study on a small community in Johannesburg, this is a reality for people who live in informal settlements across the country.

Built Environment

A sustainable building should be a thing of beauty
At its best our built environment can inspire us, so why does it often depress? Beauty is a natural complement to simplicity and efficiency, but the concept jars with our technocratic understanding of sustainability.   Buildings must fulfil their function, but to inspire us a building must be beautiful. We recognise a building’s beauty or ugliness immediately and instinctively, and we respond. We’re more comfortable in beautiful environments, we pay more to live in beautiful suburbs and we travel across the world just to experience a beautiful city.

Case study: Sawmill House
AUSTRALIA – Balanced along the edge of a former gold mine quarry in Yackandandah, Victoria, Sawmill House is a poetic example of young Melbourne and Hobart-based studio Archier’s belief in open, culturally responsive design. A key feature of the residence is the use of recycled concrete blocks to form the dwelling’s outer perimeter. Sawmill explores the adaptable reuse of a major by-product of the building industry – the thousands of tonnes of waste concrete that goes into landfill each year.

Waste concrete walls – a surface of subtly shifting textures and hues. Photo by Ben Hosking.

Waste concrete walls – a surface of subtly shifting textures and hues. Photo by Ben Hosking.

Made in the shade: Solar + storage = two EVs in leafy suburbs of Melbourne
AUSTRALIA – A rooftop solar and battery storage system installed at a house in the leafy Victorian suburb of Blackburn – and which overcame problems of shading and complex roof angles to produce and store enough solar energy to power two electric vehicles – has been nominated as a finalist for a Clean Energy Council award.

Food Systems

Evidence says it’s time for a depth limit on trawling
Since publishing our study on “A scientific basis for regulation deep-sea fishing by depth“ we’ve been subjected to criticism online and in print from fisheries organisations and most recently on this website in an article by Magnus Johnson. Johnson makes general points about the benefits of sustainable fisheries, that we agree with, but his specific critique of our work falls well wide of the mark. Our work suggests that stopping deep-sea trawling at a depth of around 600m makes sense, because deeper than this the proportions of total and elasmobranch bycatch species (sharks and rays) in the assemblage increase significantly. At the same time indices of biodiversity are still increasing and the value of the species present falls.

Investors Gave This Sustainable Food Startup $108M to Do the ‘Impossible’
Sustainable food startup Impossible Foods recently raised $108 million in Series D funding, bringing their total funding to date to $183 million. The Redwood City, California-based company is creating meat and dairy alternatives from plant ingredients that are remarkably similar to the real thing. The startup is most well-known for its burger that “bleeds.” The product is vegan, but contains heme, a molecule found in hemoglobin and other proteins that gives blood its red pigment. Impossible Foods founder and CEO Patrick O. Brown says that heme is the secret to meat flavor. Heme can be found in the roots of nitrogen-fixing plants, allowing Impossible Foods to create entirely plant-based products that look, taste, grill, and “bleed” like animal meat.


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