Sustainable Development News

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

Fishing, not oil, is at the heart of the South China Sea dispute
Contrary to the view that the South China Sea disputes are driven by a regional hunger for seabed energy resources, the real and immediate prizes at stake are the region’s fisheries and marine environments that support them… For a relatively small (around 3 million square kilometres) patch of the oceans, the South China Sea delivers an astonishing abundance of fish. The area is home to at least 3,365 known species of marine fishes, and in 2012, an estimated 12% of the world’s total fishing catch, worth US$21.8 billion, came from this region… But these vital resources are under enormous pressure. The South China Sea’s fisheries are seriously over-exploited.

Energy and Climate Change

We have almost certainly blown the 1.5-degree global warming target
The [Paris] agreement was widely met with cautious optimism. Certainly, some of the media were pleased with the outcome while acknowledging the deal’s limitations.  Many climate scientists were pleased to see a more ambitious target being pursued, but what many people fail to realise is that actually staying within a 1.5℃ global warming limit is nigh on impossible. There seems to be a strong disconnect between what the public and climate scientists think is achievable. The problem is not helped by the media’s apparent reluctance to treat it as a true crisis.

Climate urgency: we’ve locked in more global warming than people realize | Dana Nuccitelli
While most people accept the reality of human-caused global warming, we tend not to view it as an urgent issue or high priority. That lack of immediate concern may in part stem from a lack of understanding that today’s pollution will heat the planet for centuries to come. So far humans have caused about 1°C warming of global surface temperatures, but if we were to freeze the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide at today’s levels, the planet would continue warming.

As the mercury soars, fear grows over ‘air-con effect’
Most of the world will have air conditioning in their homes, workplaces and cars within 20 years, requiring thousands of power stations to be built and potentially accelerating climate change, energy experts say. As temperatures shatter records worldwide in 2016 and Britain anticipates its second heatwave of the summer, demand for the technology is exploding.

Renewables up 70% in G20 countries
New figures have shown that renewable energy generation in the world’s 20 major economies has increased by 70 per cent in the past five years. In alignment with the recent shift away from fossil fuels, G20 countries have collectively produced eight per cent of their electricity from solar, wind and other green energy resources, up from 4.6 per cent in 2010.

Whoops! North Carolina Offshore Wind Energy Slips Past Koch Bros Barrier
It looks like the Koch brothers really are losing their grip. Last Friday, the Department of the Interior brought the hammer down in favor of offshore wind development in North Carolina, where the fossil-friendly industrialist brothers are used to wielding an outsized influence on energy policy. The latest DOI announcement brings the state one step closer to exploiting its considerable offshore resources.

Australian energy markets have echoes of Enron crisis in California
Just how bad a situation are Australian energy markets in? We are told, repeatedly, by the architects, managers and regulators of Australia’s National Electricity Market that it is the most efficient in the world. But lingering questions about the state and fairness of the market are being brought to the fore – by soaring gas prices, the controversy over high electricity prices in South Australia, and as the country grapples with the pace of the extraordinary energy transition that looms over the incumbents.

Triple trouble: Big three electricity retailers charging twice the rate of ACT
The big three electricity retailers are charging as much as triple the rate for power in deregulated markets compared with the ACT, costing consumers hundreds of dollars a year, according to a study by energy economist Bruce Mountain. The report, commissioned by the GetUp! group, analysed how much AGL, EnergyAustralia and Origin Energy were charging customers for the retail component of bills. It found South Australian customers, for instance, were paying about twice as much for the retailing component as it cost to generate the electricity itself.

Lismore community solar farms set for construction as investors pile in
Australia’s first community-funded council solar farms are expected to be up and running by the end of the year after two investment rounds raised enough money to fund the two 100kW projects slated for Lismore in New South Wales – and an entire additional solar farm, into the bargain.

How to make Australia’s clean energy transition fair for all
…It is crucial to ensure that all Australians are able to participate and benefit from the transition to renewable energy. Certainly, solar PV is not just for the wealthy, as some political commentators would have us believe. But, while lower- and middle-income households have embraced solar, Australia’s lowest income houses have been least able to access solar PV to date. What is more, renters, apartment dwellers and homeowners also face issues accessing solar due to a lack of roof access, unsuitable roofs or split incentives. Those issues won’t be solved by the market without policy intervention. In the lead up to the COAG Energy Council meeting in mid-August a number of stakeholders are urging for a transformation of current energy market arrangements.

Power Ledger sticks it to low solar feed-in tariffs
AUSTRALIA – Perth company Power Ledger is trialling technology that will enable users to trade excess solar energy fed into the grid directly between one another, rather than sell it back to the energy retailer for a rate usually well below the retail price (feed-in tariffs are generally around 6c a kilowatt-hour, while retail prices can cost upwards of 25c/kWh). Power Ledger is based on blockchain technology – the key innovation behind the Bitcoin currency – enabling ownership of energy to be identified as it’s generated while also managing the various trading agreements between consumers who buy the solar and those who generate it.

13 GW Of Solar Projects In Upcoming Brazil Auction, 22 GW Of Wind
Over 13 gigawatts (GW) in solar energy projects have officially registered to participate in an upcoming Brazil power auction later this year. 1,260 solar and wind projects are approved to participate in what will be Brazil’s only solar auction this year, to be held on December 16th.

Environment and Biodiversity

What’s in Rio’s Bay and Beaches?
From the top of Rio de Janeiro’s Sugarloaf or the Christ the Redeemer statue that towers above the city, Guanabara Bay looks picturesque. But the ailing estuary, site of the Olympic’s sailing and rowing, is anything but pristine… According to the United Nations, up to 90 percent of wastewater in developing countries flows untreated into waterways used for bathing, drinking, or fishing. Yet it isn’t often that such water pollution captures media attention on an Olympic scale.

All-Women ‘Army’ Protecting Rare Bird in India
Dadara and two nearby villages, Pasariya, and Singimari, are flanked by food-rich wetlands and brimming with tall trees perfect for nesting. The region has become a major stronghold for this homely creature: Due mostly to deforestation and widespread development of wetlands, only between 800 and 1,200 greater adjutant storks remain in India and Cambodia, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Painful native plant may hold pain relief key
A scientist’s painful brush with a New Zealand native plant has led to research that may help develop a new pain relief drug. Eric Buenz was reaching for a deer he had shot in the Marlborough Sounds bush when he felt the sting… A short time later his hand started to lose all feeling. Some may have brushed off the painful and numbing encounter with New Zealand’s native stinging nettle ongaonga. But for Buenz, an American biomedical scientist, botanist and natural products expert who had recently moved to Nelson, it triggered his professional curiosity.

Pilanguru people to fight on as uranium mine gets environmental approval|
Traditional owners have vowed to fight a proposed uranium mine at Mulga Rock, about 240km west of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, which was given conditional environmental approval on Monday. The Environmental Protection Authority of WA recommended the Barnett government approve construction of the open-pit mine and uranium processing plant, operated by Perth-based Vimy Resources Limited, after a three-month public environmental review.

Spotted-tailed quoll: Canberra road kill turns out to be endangered marsupial
AUSTRALIA – The discovery of the remains of an endangered quoll in suburban Canberra is giving ecologists renewed hope the species is making a comeback. Motorist Maryke Booth found the dead animal on Johnson Drive in Tuggeranong last week.  Despite the sad circumstances, its discovery marked a rare occasion — that the marsupial was recorded so close to civilisation in the ACT.


Why the heck isn’t drought-stricken California measuring water?|
If there’s any hope of preventing California from shriveling into a parched wasteland, the state will have to figure out some simple things first. Namely, how much water it has and where it’s all going. Shockingly, California isn’t tracking much of its water. It’s like a business that’s opted to fire the accountants and operate under the honor system, using an abacus and semi-annual estimates from middle managers. A new report from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, known as PPIC, says that the state’s five-year drought has exposed “serious gaps and fragmentation.”

Economy and Business

Cleantech Companies Delivered Triple the Returns of Fossil Fuel Companies Over Past Decade
A report released today from As Yow Sow and Corporate Knights reveals that a list of 200 clean energy companies known as the Carbon Clean 200™ (Clean200™) show a simulated annualized return of 21.82 percent over the past decade – nearly triple that of the Carbon Underground 200™, a list of fossil fuel companies being targeted for divestment, which generated a 7.84 percent annualized return over the same period. The Clean200’s high figure was largely due to the explosive growth experienced by Chinese cleantech firms, but firms outside of China still had figures superior to the S&P 1200 global benchmark and Carbon Underground 200.

Advertising: A Social Experiment That, for the Most Part, Has Gone Wrong
As an industry, we’re ignorant at best or utterly demagogic, one-sided and irresponsible at worst. The majority of do-good efforts from brands are little more than a cheeky pick-up line to charm consumers into buying more. How can we continuously ignore the societal or environmental consequences of our craft?

Waste and the Circular Economy

Total unveils new circular HDPE compound with high recycled content
Chemicals and refining company Total has developed a circular economy HDPE compound that it says outperforms virgin materials. The HDPE compound is guaranteed to have a 25% or 50% minimum post-consumer recyclate content, is a natural colour and can be used for blow-moulded bottles and heavy-duty containers for household and industrial liquids. Coming on-stream in 2017, Total aims to have initial production capacity of 20,000 tonnes.

Trending: Latest Circular Innovations Close the Loop on Furniture, Packaging, Textiles
More and more companies are looking for ways to adopt circular models for their products, and some of the latest examples have been provided by industry giants. Furniture company IKEA, chemical firm Total, and Inditex, the parent company of apparel brands Zara, Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti and Bershka, are all working to reduce their environmental footprint by changing how their products are made.

Politics and Society

Calling your political opponents ‘stupid’ is a stupid thing to do
It’s always tempting to call people on the other side of the political divide stupid. Denigrating our political adversaries as stupid comes with some big payoffs: it makes us feel smarter, boosts our sense of self worth, makes us more certain of our own opinions, and often bonds us closer with others on our side. But constantly dismissing the other side as stupid can be dangerous. It’s unlikely to foster dialogue, and will instead drive political factions ever further apart. Politics will become a grudge match between factions who consider their opponents idiots and therefore refuse to listen to them. Whenever this sort of vicious partisanship kicks in, voters become more likely to follow their own politics when making a decision – no matter what the evidence says.

Crown estate wades into Hinkley Point nuclear debate
The crown estate has waded into the battle over Hinkley Point, pointing out that offshore windfarms are already being built at cheaper prices than the proposed atomic reactors for Somerset. While not arguing the £18.5bn nuclear project should be scrapped, the organisation – still legally owned by the Queen – said that the government’s current Hinkley review makes it a good time to consider the advantages of other low carbon technologies.

2016 Olympic Games and the environment
Dr Anthony Horton questions how much consideration is given to environmental considerations when Olympic Games host cities are selected.
RECENT MEDIA ATTENTION on the parlous state of the environment in the vicinity of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games sites, and Brazil more generally, piqued my interest in researching the extent to which environmental issues are taken into account when deciding which city hosts the Olympic Games.

Built Environment

Electric cars could drive the future – but not without old-fashioned vehicles
Electric cars could take over most driving necessities tomorrow, according to a group of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but they’ll need the help of internal combustion engines to do it. Using travel surveys and global positioning data, the MIT team has evaluated the possible widespread use of electric cars, and has found that grids could easily support today’s cheap electric cars, and that the cars themselves can already meet drivers’ requirements almost nine times out of 10.

Food Systems

LEED for vertical farms? Defining high-tech sustainable food
From shipping containers-turned-micro farms to fruit-picking robots, the wide world of agriculture tech is attracting attention and investor dollars as increasingly urgent concerns about food scarcity come into focus. Amid a wave of in-field technology, food data analytics and experimental urban agriculture, the particularly futuristic field of vertical farming is attracting entrants including industrial incumbents such as Fujitsu and upstarts such as AeroFarms, City Farm and Green Sense. As ag tech blooms, attracting a total $4.6 billion in investment during 2015, the nonprofit Association for Vertical Farming is positioning itself as a leader of the segment of the market.


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