Sustainable Development News

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

10 green viral videos you should watch now
The ticker-tape nature of how we consume media today often allows for ideas to proliferate, but not to take root. As information sweeps across our social networks, we mindlessly click on a link, spend seconds on it and move on to the next piece of content. Yet new forms of media coax you from just scolling by — such as animated GIFs, which offer quick shots of pop culture humor. And video is having a moment, thanks to the growing video capabilities of smartphones and the autoplay features on many social networks… Each video below is a lesson in effective communication and green messaging.

Energy and Climate Change

UK energy from coal hits zero for first time in over 100 years
The amount of electricity generated from coal in the UK has fallen to zero several times in the past week, grid data shows. In what green energy supporters have described as a “historic turning point” for the UK’s power system, coal-fired electricity first fell to zero late on Monday night and for the early hours of Tuesday morning, according to data from BM Reports.

The things people ask about the scientific consensus on climate change
It’s been almost a month since the paper I co-authoured on the synthesis of research into the scientific consensus on climate change was published. Surveying the many studies into scientific agreement, we found that more than 90% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming… My co-authors and I participated in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on the online forum Reddit, answering questions about the scientific consensus… Here is an edited selection of some of the questions posed by Reddit readers and our answers.

Confirmed: Southern hemisphere CO2 level rises above symbolic 400 ppm milestone
A significant marker of rising global greenhouse gas emissions has been passed, with a key monitoring site on Tasmania’s north-west tip recording atmospheric carbon-dioxide exceeding 400 parts per million for the first time. As foreshadowed by Fairfax Media last week, a baseline reading at the Cape Grim station that exceeded the 400-ppm mark of the primary gas driving global warming was imminent. As it turned out, “the unfortunate milestone” was reached on Tuesday May 10 at 8am, local time, said Peter Krummel, who heads the CSIRO team analysing data from the most important site in the southern hemisphere

Here’s what Obama’s new methane rule won’t cover
On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency released its final regulations aimed at cutting methane emissions from new oil and gas infrastructure built after 2015. But as impressive as they sound on paper, the rule doesn’t answer the tough question: What is the United States doing about all the methane emissions from its existing infrastructure?

Peter Whitmore: Emissions trading scheme needs meaningful overhaul
NEW ZEALAND – Now we have signed the Paris Agreement, our Government wants to continue using the emissions trading scheme as our primary tool to meet our commitment to reduce emissions. But if we continue down this route there are still some major issues that need to be sorted. Three of these concern the charges made for emissions, the revenue collected from these charges, and the effect of accepting international units to pay for local emissions.

Shell creates green energy division to invest in wind power
Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, has established a separate division, New Energies, to invest in renewable and low-carbon power… Shell’s new division brings together its existing hydrogen, biofuels and electrical activities but will also be used as a base for a new drive into wind power, according to an internal announcement to company staff.

Environment and Biodiversity

Here’s Why ‘Birdbrain’ Should Be a Compliment (Book Talk)
As Jennifer Ackerman explains in The Genius of Birds, the dawn chorus is one of the many elegant strategies birds use to survive and prosper. It’s a (mostly male) bird’s way of saying: This patch is mine, why don’t you drop by for a tasty worm? New scientific discoveries are showing that birds, long thought to be driven by simple instinct, are much more intelligent than we thought. Speaking from her home in Charlottesville, Virginia, Ackerman explains how female birds are especially attracted to a “sexy syllable”; how food is the sixth language of love; and why we have to act urgently before climate change drives more bird species into extinction.

Shrinking shorebirds pay the price for Arctic warming when they reach the tropics
Just as canaries once warned miners of the lack of oxygen, an iconic shorebird that migrates from Siberia to West Africa is sending warning signals about the impact of climate change on the planet. In a new study published today in the journal Science, an international team details how the warming of the Arctic by climate change could be responsible for drops in the population of a sub-species of red knot bird (Calidris canutus canutus).

Queensland’s mangrove ecosystem dying in secret
AUSTRALIA – The proverbial canary in the coal mine of the Queensland ecosystems went off months ago and we missed the calls. There have been large scale diebacks of mangrove trees in the Gulf of Carpentaria for months and scientist have only just noticed as they are in the most remote areas of Queensland. Scientists are not exactly sure what happened up there but they know the damage is extensive and unprecedented. James Cook University Professor and spokesman for the Australian Mangrove and Saltmarsh Network, Norm Duke, said they were only guessing at what happened, but he had some prevailing theories.

What’s a national park to do about climate change?
USA – The jewels in the Crown of the Continent are vanishing. The glistening ice fields for which Glacier National Park is named are retreating higher into their alpine valleys. Of the approximately 150 glaciers present in 1850, only 25 remain big enough to be considered functional glaciers today. A computer-based climate model predicts that some of the largest will vanish by 2030. The predicted loss of glaciers in Glacier is both ironic and iconic, for no other reason than that they are the namesake of one of our oldest, grandest, most famous and wildest national parks. If climate change can destroy Glacier’s glaciers, can the transformation of other parks be far behind? Well, no. In fact, it’s already happening.

World’s smallest porpoise nearing extinction in Mexico, environmentalists warn
Environmentalists have warned Mexico’s vaquita marina — the world’s smallest porpoise — is facing imminent extinction with the Government reporting only 60 were found late last year. The World Wildlife Fund is urging Mexican authorities to “immediately and indefinitely” close all fisheries in the upper Gulf of California or risk losing the species forever. The vaquita’s rapidly declining population has been blamed on accidental entanglement in gillnets.

Why Life Is So Tough for Sea Turtles
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently reclassified green sea turtles in Florida from endangered to threatened in parts of their range, due to increased numbers of turtles nesting in Florida and on Mexico’s Pacific coast.  In 2015, authorities reported 28,088 green sea turtle nests in Florida—a new record high. In the early 1990s, fewer than 5,000 nests a year were recorded. It’s good news, but turtles aren’t out of hot water just yet.   All seven species of the world’s sea turtles are declining, whether it’s from ocean pollution, poaching, or loss of beach nesting habitat, including from rising sea levels due to climate change.

Call for total ban on stock in waterways after lack of prosecutions
NEW ZEALAND – Despite receiving 150 complaints about farmers sullying waterways in the past few years, the Waikato Regional Council has prosecuted no one. The council blames poor-quality information and delays in laying complaints, which hamper investigations.  But there are other reasons, too, according to Massey University freshwater ecologist Mike Joy.

Pest-free islands jewel in Coromandel crown
NEW ZEALAND – After four decades of hard slog, the Mercury Islands group off the eastern Coromandel coast are pest- and predator-free. At a ceremony on Great Mercury Island on Friday, May 13, Minister of Conservation Maggie Barry made the announcement to the delight of the small crowd of supporters, volunteers and Department of Conservation staff. Barry said areas becoming predator free are the holy grail and it’s encouraging to see the passion and drive from the people involved in the project.

Ministers reject plan for ’emergency’ use of banned bee-harming pesticides
UK – Ministers have rejected an “emergency” application from the National Farmers Union (NFU) to use banned pesticides on a third of all oilseed rape crops. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been shown to be harmful to bees and were banned from use on flowering crops by the EU in 2013, a move opposed by the UK government.

Economy and Business

The science behind our bargain hunting foolishness
What happens to your brain when you walk into a shop and are faced with a huge, ultra-high definition, 3D television at the startling price of £37,695? Assuming you actually need a new TV, you might dismiss this as ridiculous; laugh at the spendthrift fools who might buy it. And then, very sensibly, you start looking at more reasonably priced options, maybe at around the £1,500 mark. You have just been successfully manipulated. Welcome to the world of anchoring.

Forests and the evolution of resource economics (Book Excerpt)
From our vantage point today, the U.S. Forest Service seems like a venerable institution with a long, rich history, but let’s not forget that it did not exist until 1905. That means that when the Great New England Hurricane hit in 1938, it had been operating for a little more than three decades. The agency was the brainchild of Gifford Pinchot and Theodore Roosevelt, and it was conceived with a lofty mission: “Where conflicting interests must be reconciled, the question shall always be answered from the standpoint of the greatest good of the greatest number in the long run.”

The Climate Group launches new energy efficiency initiative
The Climate Group has launched a new programme to encourage major international companies to double their energy productivity. The EP100 initiative was originally announced in April and welcomed Mahindra & Mahindra, the world’s largest manufacturer of tractors, as its first partner. The company has pledged to double its energy productivity by 2030 compared to the baseline of 2008.

Waste and the Circular Economy

#BusinessCase: Circular Economy Helping Nike Double Its Business with Half the Impact
On Wednesday, leading apparel and footwear brand Nike released its latest sustainability report and was announced as the newest Global Partner of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Nike has made impressive progress during a period of continued growth, and recognizes that to continue as such, it must innovate on an unprecedented scale. The company has set “a vision for a low-carbon, closed-loop future as part of the company’s growth strategy.”

Politics and Society

Civil disobedience is the only way left to fight climate change
Right now, thousands of people are taking direct action as part of a global wave of protests against the biggest fossil fuel infrastructure projects across the world. We kicked off earlier this month by shutting down the UK’s largest opencast coal mine in south Wales. Last Sunday, around 1,000 people closed the world’s largest coal-exporting port in Newcastle, Australia and other bold actions are happening at power stations, oil refineries, pipelines and mines everywhere from the Philippines, Brazil and the US, to Nigeria, Germany and India. This is just the start of the promised escalation after the Paris agreement, and the largest ever act of civil disobedience in the history of the environmental movement.

Call to end ‘hellish’ refugee camps
Head of the International Rescue Committee David Miliband is calling for an end to the refugee camp system. A former British foreign secretary, Mr Miliband said wealthy nations should accept the most vulnerable 10 percent of the world’s refugees, and fund less-wealthy countries to integrate new arrivals as full-time residents.

Five things we learned this week about 2016 election campaign : Renew Economy
AUSTRALIA – The two mainstream political groupings – the Coalition and Labor – agreed on one thing in the first week of the campaign: both claim to hate the Greens, and deep down both are terrified, and in the case of Labor envious of the Greens ability to match science with policy, particularly when it comes to climate change… The polls predict a dead heat, which means two things: Either Labor get in and need the help of the Greens to pass legislation, or Turnbull gets in and needs the approval of the far right and the Coalition’s own leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, to pass new laws. And he will still have to deal with the Greens and the Xenophons in the Senate.

Cartoon - 2016-elections

International pressure grows on Turnbull government over CSIRO cuts
AUSTRALIA – International pressure is mounting on the Prime Minister to intervene to prevent further damage to Australia’s global reputation caused by the CSIRO’s climate science cuts. The call comes after another leaked letter from CSIRO obtained by Fairfax Media reveals a major international weather agency wrote to CSIRO more than a year ago to express its concern about a pending cut to Australia’s efforts.

Built Environment

Sadiq Khan to more than double size of London’s clean air zone
The new mayor of London Sadiq Khan has made his first major policy announcement, unveiling plans to substantially increase the size of London’s clean air charging zone to tackle the capital’s illegal air pollution levels. The Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) – which could also now come into force earlier than planned – will require drivers of the 2.5m oldest and dirtiest vehicles to pay a charge. Owners of cars that fail to meet the standards will pay a £12.50 charge, separate to the congestion charge.


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