Sustainable Development News

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

What does a year’s worth of crude oil look like?
Imagine a city building that is 1 kilometre square – about half the size of Sydney’s CBD. Now picture it towering 4.5 kilometres into the sky, up amongst the clouds. That is the volume of oil that the world consumed in 2004. Now imagine a new building being added beside it every single year, except each new building is 10 storeys higher than the one before.  By the time 2014 arrived, the new building was more than 700 metres higher – representing a massive 5.24 cubic kilometres of oil extracted and consumed – in one year alone. That’s how big the numbers get. Still having trouble picturing it? You can “see” the building in this clip from Richard Smith’s 2007 ABC documentary Crude – the incredible journey of oil.

Energy and Climate Change

Melting glacier? Yawn. Climate change is boring, worthy – and terrifying
It’s the existential threat to our species, and it bores us to tears. Admit it. You think the consequences of human-driven climate change are terrifying, but it seems too abstract, too technical and too long term. A recent poll in the US found that, while most Americans accepted that the climate was indeed changing, less than a quarter admitted to be either extremely or very worried about it.

Coal-fired plants lead ‘extreme competition’, lifting emissions
An intense battle among electricity producers in Australia is being won by coal-fired power plants, sending carbon emissions climbing, energy consultants Pitt & Sherry say… “At the moment, coal is winning,” Mr Harrington said, noting coal’s share of the NEM – serving Australia’s eastern states – reached 75.6 per cent at the end of October, up more than 3 percentage points since the end of the carbon tax in June 2014. “Over the long term, our view is quite pessimistic about emissions from the NEM in the absence of a carbon price,” he said.

Home battery storage market expected to “explode” in Australia in 2016
The battery storage market is expected to finally “explode” in Australia in 2016, with the residential sector expected to grow 20-fold over the next 12 months , while the battery storage industry grows into a billion-dollar-a-year market within a few years. In what is expected to be a repeat of the solar boom of five years ago, the battery storage market – this time without subsidies – is expected to enjoy massive growth as homes and businesses look to make the most out of their rooftop solar panels, and as utilities look to storage as a cheaper offset to grid expansion.

Household batteries still five years from making financial sense for Australian homes
There is a lot of hype about the flood of household battery options to store rooftop solar power that are hitting the Australian market – but do they make financial sense for a family home? A new assessment by the Alternative Technology Association says not yet. But by 2020, for some households around the country, they will become at least competitive. The wide penetration of rooftop solar – 1 .4 million systems are installed and numbers are growing – has seen numerous companies, such as Tesla, turning to the Australian market as a likely early adopter of energy storage technology.

Concerns over Tasmania’s hydro electricity output follow long-term dry forecast
AUSTRALIA – There are concerns about Tasmania’s hydro energy output after the driest October on record saw the state import more power from Victoria’s brown coal plants. With long-term projections for a drier southern Australia and less rainfall for Tasmania, energy experts are looking to other forms of renewable energy to reduce the reliance on hydro generation.

Paris 2015: UN Conference on Climate Change

Branson’s B Team calls for long-term climate goals beyond Paris
An environmental coalition of 22 business leaders including Sir Richard Branson and Unilever’s Paul Polman have penned an open letter ahead of the crucial Paris talks calling for an ‘actionable’ global commitment of ‘Net-Zero by 2050’.  The letter, signed by the business leaders who form the global non-profit ‘B Team’ initiative, calls for a long-term goal to be introduced at COP21 that would incorporate a global commitment to achieve a net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions economy by 2050.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Thomas Piketty calls for investors to divest from fossil fuels ahead of climate talks
Thomas Piketty has called for investors to move their money out of fossil fuels ahead of landmark UN climate change talks. The French economist, along with ‘ecological economist’ Tim Jackson, authors of the respective bestselling books Capital in the Twenty-First Century and Prosperity Without Growth: economics for a finite planet, said that investors should divest from a sector with a business model “at odds with physical realities”. In a letter to the Guardian, they wrote: “This is a rare and decisive moment in history. Science, ethics, and economics are intersecting to form a clear market signal: in the lead up to the COP21 climate talks, responsible investors should divest from fossil fuels.”

Environment and Biodiversity

Koala Count 2015: Citizen scientists wanted to track marsupial movements via smartphone
Australia is blessed to have such a unique range of wildlife, and there are not many animals more iconic than the Phascolarctos cinereus — commonly known as the koala. But being a worldwide symbol for Australia does not mean life is easy for the tree-dwelling marsupial. While there are plenty of devoted people committed to helping koalas, one of the biggest challenges experts face is simply knowing where they are and in what sort of numbers. The Koala Count 2015 aims to solve this problem by calling on citizen scientists across the country to utilise their local knowledge in conjunction with a smartphone app.

The week in wildlife – in pictures
Thirsty bees, sleeping lions and a tiny elephant shrew are among this week’s pick of images from the natural world.

One of the first two baby sengis, or round eared elephant shrews, born at Chester Zoo this summer makes its public debuts on 16 November. The tiny creatures, native to Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, are more closely related to elephants than shrews and are among the few mammals that naturally pair up for life.

One of the first two baby sengis, or round eared elephant shrews, born at Chester Zoo this summer makes its public debuts on 16 November. The tiny creatures, native to Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, are more closely related to elephants than shrews and are among the few mammals that naturally pair up for life.
Photograph: Chester Zoo/PA

Rats hit hard by 1080 drop
NEW ZEALAND – A major 1080 poison offensive succeeded in wiping out 95 per cent of rats and 85 per cent of stoats in targeted forests around the country – but the result was still below what a Department of Conservation scientist was hoping for. As part of a $21 million project dubbed The Battle for Our Birds, DoC staff launched 27 aerial pest control operations between last August and February over hundreds of thousands of hectares of beech forest, mainly in the South Island.

Eco shark barriers proposed for New South Wales create haven for marine life
AUSTRALIA – Shark barriers marketed as ‘eco-friendly’ and proposed for the New South Wales north coast have been praised for creating a haven for marine life off Western Australia. City of Cockburn environmental manager Chris Beaton said, after a six-month trial, the council had decided to keep the barriers off Coogee Beach for three years. He said they had attracted, rather than deterred, marine life while still protecting swimmers.

Pictures: Green Slime Invades World’s Deepest Lake
The world’s deepest lake was long known as one of the most pristine. But in recent years, a bizarre invasion of green slime has taken over areas of Russia’s Lake Baikal, leaving scientists looking for possible sources of pollution. Located in far eastern Russia, Lake Baikal “has got to be one of the top five most beautiful places in the world,” says Stephanie Hampton, a lake ecologist at Washington State University who has spent a decade studying Baikal. “But these dramatic algal blooms need attention,” she adds.

Economy and Business

How green is our infrastructure? Helping cities assess its value for long-term liveability
Australian cities score high in liveability awards.… Green infrastructure is a key contributor to these rankings… Yet, if we look at these valuable assets, they are mainly historical legacies of the 19th century. They include The Domain, Treasury-Fitzroy Gardens and Royal Park in Melbourne, Hyde and Centennial Parks in Sydney, King’s Park in Perth, the Adelaide Parklands and those in Brisbane, Hobart and Canberra. Their creation was driven mainly by visions of what a city should look like and provide for its people. This was long before the invention of cost-benefit analysis and many of the other tools used to make the economic case for infrastructure.

Waste and the Circular Economy

World’s largest ocean cleanup operation one step closer to launch
A crowdfunded 100km-long boom to clean up a vast expanse of plastic rubbish in the Pacific is one step closer to reality after successful tests of a scaled-down prototype in the Netherlands last week. Further trials off the Dutch and Japanese coasts are now slated to begin in the new year. If they are successful, the world’s largest ever ocean cleanup operation will go live in 2020, using a gigantic V-shaped array, the like of which has never been seen before.

SORT Recycling helps unemployed in north-west Queensland build new skills and jobs
AUSTRALIA – A recycling movement has started in north-west Queensland hoping to reduce waste and help unemployed people gain new skills and full-time work.  SORT Recycling already has a store in Hughenden, and will be opening branches in Richmond and Cloncurry in the next few weeks. The not-for-profit organisation receives donations of old furniture and used wood, which its members then transform into new furniture and other items.

Politics and Society

Paris terror attacks: France now faces fight against fear and exclusion
The attacks that took place at a series of venues in Paris on November 13 were the deadliest on French soil since 1945. At least 129 people have been killed in six different places. Reports say that nearly 100 are in a critical condition. Police have reported that eight people believed to have carried out the attacks are also dead – seven by blowing themselves up.

Bill Nye the Science Guy Knows How to Fix Climate Change (Book Talk)
Bill Nye brought science into kids’ lives and made us laugh. He inspires memes, has his own bow tie line and has appeared on numerous television shows, including, earlier this month, alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, National Geographic Channel’s Explorer series. He’s even been a guest on Dancing With the Stars. But under the stardust is a serious scientist who started life as a humble mechanical engineer at Boeing and is now on a mission to combat scientific ignorance and fight against climate change. His new book, Unstoppable: Harnessing Science To Change The World, mixes science and his trademark humor to rally a new “Greatest Generation”—ours—to solve a global climate change crisis that he believes is more threatening to our survival than World War Two.

In too deep: Gideon Mendel’s photographs of global flooding – in pictures
For eight years, Gideon Mendel has travelled the globe, photographing people whose lives have been devastated by floods. Here are his images of a drowning world.

Lucas Williams, Lawshe Plantation, South Carolina, US, 11 October 2015:

Lucas Williams, Lawshe Plantation, South Carolina, US, 11 October 2015
I went to bed on a Friday night and everything was fine. Three days later, my whole life was under water. We’ve had years when the swamps got high from rain, but nothing like this. I went to sleep at 11pm and there was still 30ft (9m) to go before the water would come into the house. I woke at 6.30 and it was ankle deep. We got our stuff and we got out. Our farm has about 1,300 acres, and 1,000 were under water. We lost everything – our immediate losses are close to half a million dollars. We did not have flood insurance.

OECD coal discussions highlight tensions in Australia’s position on climate change
While the UN Paris talks approach at the end of November, attention is currently focused on another forum, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), where member countries are negotiating a deal to limit public finance to overseas coal projects in emerging and developing countries. Australia and South Korea are reportedly opposed to an agreement struck by the US and Japan and supported by other member countries, notably Germany and France, to prevent public finance to all but the very cleanest power plants.

Getting down and dirty on Direct Action
An explainer on the Abbott-Turnbull governments’ signature climate policy… Australia’s emissions are equivalent to about 543 million CO₂ tonnes a year. The Abbott government promised to cut them 5 per cent on 2000 levels by 2020 and about 19 per cent by 2030, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has retained those targets. Cumulative cuts amount to about 2.5 billion tonnes between now and 2030, a figure The Climate Institute says is about half Australia’s fair share. The government’s mainstay climate policy is Direct Action, which costs $2.55 billion out to 2018-19 and perhaps $200 million annually afterwards.

Built Environment

Violence, climate change, obesity: world’s cities face growing health risks
Two-thirds of the world’s population are expected to be city-dwellers in 2050, compared with half in 2008. But while cities have many economic and social advantages, they can damage residents’ health if the right infrastructure is not in place. “You have to get water and food in, sewage and waste out,” says Dr Harry Rutter, senior clinical research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Cities such as London have built this infrastructure over centuries, but those expanding now have to do so in much less time, and often with little money: more than 90% of urbanisation between now and 2050 will take place in low and middle-income countries, according to the World Health Organisation.

Food Systems

Impact Farm: Introducing Flatpack Agriculture
An instructions booklet and a set of flatpack pieces that can be easily fitted together. All you need to start farming in the city. It’s somehow difficult to imagine, but it’s what innovators Mikkel Kjaer and Ronnie Markussen have in mind for the future of the city.


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