Sustainable Development News

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

Down the drain: we need to rethink how we clean our homes
Individually, we use thousands of chemicals in our households and very few of us think about whether they are harming the environment. We often think about buying a “green” detergent to wash our clothes, but the simple act of shampooing and conditioning our hair, even with green products, results in more than 30 chemicals being washed into our sewers. Despite our best efforts in the supermarket, our waste water treatment systems are well designed for removing most of these chemicals, as the majority are biodegradable. However, a number of household chemicals are difficult to remove and end up being discharged into our coastal environments and waterways.

Energy and Climate Change

US and Chinese cities reveal stronger pledges to cut emissions
China’s mega-cities and major US metropolitan areas will pledge swifter and deeper cuts in carbon pollution on Tuesday, shoring up an historic agreement between presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping. Beijing and 10 other Chinese cities will agree to peak greenhouse gas emissions as early as 2020 – a decade ahead of the existing target for the world’s biggest emitter, under a deal to be unveiled at a summit in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

August smashes global heat record as the giant El Nino builds
UK – Winter is coming, and it could be colder and snowier than normal after forecasters predicted that this year’s El Nino weather phenomenon could be the strongest since 1950. Met Office meteorologists said conditions could mirror those of the 2009/2010 winter which was so long and chilly it was dubbed ‘The Big Freeze.’ That winter, heavy snowfall brought transport chaos to much of the country with airports closed and train services suspended. In parts of Scotland temperatures dropped to -8.1F (-22.3C) as record 19 inch snowfall fell in the highlands. In December that year, the average UK temperature was just 30F (-1C) the coldest since records began. This year’s El Nino looks set to be more powerful than usual with forecasters predicting the strongest since 1950.

Paris 2015: August smashes global heat record as giant El Nino builds
Global temperature records continue to tumble, with August easily the hottest in 124 years of data, Japan’s Meteorological Agency says. Last month, near-surface land and sea temperatures were 0.45 degrees higher than the 1981-2010 average, eclipsing the previous biggest anomaly for August of 0.33 degrees set last year. The record warmth, if confirmed by other agencies such as NASA, would make August the sixth month so far in 2015 that has set a new heat record. The massive El Nino weather event that continues to build in the Pacific is helping to drive temperatures higher against a background warming caused by climate change, climatologists say.

The Arctic loses its grip
Any day now Arctic sea-ice is going to hit its lowest extent for the year, and once again it’s set to be one of the lowest years on record (the four lowest years have all occurred since 2007). Already a number of ships have glided safely through the fabled northwest passage, unencumbered by sea-ice. Typically the Arctic sea-ice minimum occurs in mid to late September and the signs so far suggest a lean year. Back in August the sea-ice covered 5.61m square kilometres – the fourth lowest August average in the satellite record. And by the end of August the area of sea-ice was already in sixth lowest position.

Head of UK’s National Grid says “idea of large power stations for baseload is outdated”
Steve Holliday, CEO of National Grid, the company that operates the gas and power transmission networks in the UK and in the northeastern US, believes the idea of large coal-fired or nuclear power stations to be used for baseload power is “outdated”. “From a consumer’s point of view, the solar on the rooftop is going to be the baseload. Centralised power stations will be increasingly used to provide peak demand”, he says, in an exclusive interview for World Energy Focus, a publication of the World Energy Council produced by Energy Post.

The palm oil plantations powering communities and tackling climate change
Environmental concerns over palm oil production tend to focus on rainforest felling and the plight of the orangutan. But palm oil companies are now starting to grapple with a lesser-known issue that could make a significant difference in the quest to curb climate change. The rapid expansion of palm oil cultivation has resulted in the creation of vast wastewater lagoons beside plantations in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s two dominant producers. These murky ponds, containing the brown-hued detritus from processed palm oil fruit, release a huge amount of methane into the atmosphere – a gas so potent it traps around 34 times as much heat as carbon dioxide.

Environment and Biodiversity

Malaysia closes schools as smoke from Indonesia forest fires blankets Kuala Lumpur, states
Malaysian schools have been ordered to close as a worsening haze from Indonesian forest fires blankets the capital and neighbouring Singapore. South-East Asia has suffered for years from annual bouts of smog caused by slash-and-burn practices in Indonesia’s Sumatra and Kalimantan islands, but governments in the region have failed to address the problem.

DOC warning as emaciated seals wash up on NZ beaches
DOC is worried about a growing number of skinny and emaciated seals on the east coast.  The Department of Conservation (DOC) received an increase of fur seal callouts over the winter, mainly for those sick or dead. They also noted an increase in pup mortality at breeding colonies, such as Kaikoura and Otago. “It is highly likely this is a result of reduced productivity and prey availability, which could be related to a number of factors,” DOC marine adviser Laura Boren said. Necropsies would be carried out on a selection of pups to confirm their cause of death.

Grey-faced petrels found nesting in Bream Head Scenic Reserve
NEW ZEALAND – Petrels have returned to the mainland. Grey-faced petrels have been discovered nesting on the rocky cliffs of Whangarei’s Bream Head Scenic Reserve. This is the first time the large, grey sea birds, known to Maori as Oi, have established burrows naturally on the Northland mainland since predation by animal pests and humans wiped them out decades ago. Colonies still exist on pest-free offshore islands such as the Hen and Chickens, with a smaller translocated colony on nearby Matakohe Limestone Island in Whangarei Harbour.

West Australian waterways being poisoned by agricultural clearing practices, research reveals
Agricultural clearing practices in the southern part of Western Australia have poisoned waterways west of Esperance, new research has revealed. University of Western Australia PhD student Adam Lillicrap investigated what caused increasing levels of acid in the groundwater around the Dalyup River, Lake Gore and Jacup-Cameron Creek in the Fitzgerald River National Park. Mr Lillicrap said the installation of clearing drains to remove saline groundwater by farmers in the Esperance region over the past 40 years had inadvertently turned some river systems acidic.

Economy and Business

Bats perform ‘vital pest control’ on crops
Bats provide a service worth an estimated US $1bn (£649m) globally by controlling pests on corn crops, a study has suggested. Scientists carried out a series of experiments to assess the economic and ecological importance of the nocturnal insect-eating mammals to farmers. Globally, bat populations are under pressure as a result of habitat loss and the spread of diseases.  The findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Revamped ISO 14001 standard promises better integration between environment and business strategy
The latest version of the popular ISO 14001 environmental management system has been released today, delivering a series of revisions designed to put environmental considerations closer to the heart of business decision-making processes. The ISO 14001 standard provides more than 300,000 businesses worldwide with a practical guide on how to set up and run an effective environmental management system, offering a standardised approach on how to introduce green goals for reducing waste, cutting energy use, and streamlining logistics.

Edelman ends work with coal producers and climate change deniers
The world’s biggest public relations company has decided it will no longer work with coal producers and climate change deniers. Edelman said it believes such clients pose a threat to the company’s legitimacy and its bottom line. The exclusion of coal and climate denial, as well as fake front groups that oppose action on global warming, is outlined in internal communications obtained by the Guardian and confirmed by company executives. It signals an important shift in a company that reported earnings of $833m (£540m) and has played a critical role in shaping public opinion in the US and globally about climate change.

Vital Signs, Volume 22 (2015) | Worldwatch Institute
What we make and buy is a major indicator of society’s collective priorities. Among twenty-four key trends, Vital Signs Volume 22 explores significant global patterns in production and consumption. The result is a fascinating snapshot of how we invest our resources and the implications for the world’s well-being. The book examines developments in six main areas: energy, environment and climate, transportation, food and agriculture, global economy and resources, and population and society.  Readers will learn how aquaculture is making gains on wild fish catches, where high speed rail is accelerating, why plastic production is on the rise, who is escaping chronic hunger, and who is still suffering.

Mirvac releases Australian-first supply chain sustainability report
Mirvac has released a comprehensive overview of its supply chain sustainability, which it says is the first of its kind for an Australian property company, and something it intends to release annually. A detailed questionnaire was sent out to approximately 270 suppliers, representing 68 per cent of the supply chain by FY14 value, with suppliers comprising 32.8 per cent of that value responding. Of the 107 suppliers that responded, 94 per cent had a formal environmental policy in place, and just under 80 per cent followed an Environmental Management System, the Supplier Annual Report found.

Uncertain future for kakapo recovery plan as smelter ends funding deal
NEW ZEALAND – The future of the Department of Conservation’s kakapo recovery programme appears uncertain, with the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter looking at pulling out of its commercial funding after 25 years. The Southland-based New Zealand Aluminium Smelter has backed the programme since 1990, but the deal is set to end in December… Asked why the smelter was pulling out of the deal, NZAS chief executive Gretta Stephens said the matter was under discussion and no formal announcement had been made about whether the contract would be renewed.

Meridian Energy joins index of world’s most sustainable companies
Meridian Energy, New Zealand’s largest electricity generator, has been added to a long list of the world’s most sustainable companies. On September 21 the Wellington-headquartered company becomes only the second New Zealand company to be included in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI), joining Auckland International Airport. Launched in 1999, the index is widely regarded as the most credible international sustainability index. Drawn from a group of large publicly listed companies, the 10 largest NZX-50 companies were invited to apply to join the Asia Pacific index.

Cutting GHGs by 25% Among Carnival’s New 2020 Sustainability Goals
After meeting its initial goal a year ahead of schedule, [ocean cruise company] Carnival Corporation has renewed its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from its 2005 baseline by 2020, according to a recent announcement of the travel and leisure company’s 2020 sustainability goals. As part of the effort, the company and its 10 global brands have developed strategic energy reduction and conservation initiatives, many of which exceed current laws and regulations. One such initiative is the company’s recent announcement that its four next-generation cruise ships for Costa Cruises and AIDA Cruises will be the first in the industry to be powered at sea by liquefied natural gas (LNG), one of the world’s cleanest burning fossil fuels.

Restaurateurs ‘lack tools and knowledge to save energy’, survey reveals
Three-quarters of restaurant owners, managers and chefs claim they do not have the tools and knowledge to implement green initiatives at their establishments, despite 80% considering sustainability when making business decisions.   A survey of 150 restaurateurs, carried out by energy supplier E.ON, found that energy savings could improve profit margins by approximately 4.6%, but only if there is a greater understanding of ways to reduce carbon emissions. E.ON’s head of SME Iain Walker said: “The restaurant business is incredibly energy intensive and the desire to cut energy use is clear.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Retailers helped FRN supply 78,000 reusable furniture items to people living in poverty in 2014/15
Take-back schemes from the Furniture Re-use Network (FRN) supplied 78,000 items of quality, reusable furniture to people living in poverty in 2014/15.  FRN chief executive Craig Anderson said: “We need to connect and direct the vision and ideas of the theorists to the reality of the actions of practitioners in local communities. Through our FRN take-back schemes we have found corporate retailers looking to reduce their waste and have married this with the reuse sector’s growing demands of meeting the needs of their communities. The social, economic and environmental impacts brought about by the FRN take-back schemes are proof of our sector’s importance in achieving a circular economy in our society today.”

Politics and Society

Free Money Day: what happens when you give money to strangers?
Free Money Day, being celebrated today, is an annual event where people hand out money to strangers, two notes or coins at a time, asking them to pass half on to someone else. The aim is to challenge people to think about what wealth means. Using fun and intrigue, the day encourages conversations about our broken financial system and how its very design increases inequality by siphoning wealth away from the public to private shareholders, thereby increasing individual and national debt.

People’s Climate Music hip hop tour brings diversity to climate change fight
As New York City gears up for Climate Week and the UN Sustainable Development Summit at the end of September, musicians, actors and activists – including Bill McKibben, Malik Yusef and Naomi Klein – are touring the US in a bus to highlight how people of color are disproportionately affected by climate change. “The tour is bringing awareness of climate injustice to urban communities and people of color,” said the Rev Lennox Yearwood, CEO of Hip Hop Caucus and organizer of the tour. “It’s broadening the current climate movement.”

Nicola Sturgeon pledges £224m to tackle fuel poverty in Scotland
The Scottish Government has announced a new £224m scheme designed to cut carbon emissions and energy bills for fuel poor households. The initiative will see insulation, heating and domestic renewables installed in homes across Scotland, helping up to 28,000 people cut the cost of heating their homes. The funding, which is part of the Warmer Homes Scotland initiative, will be rolled out over the next seven years, the government said. It joins a range of area-based, loan and cash-back schemes run in Scotland to help people heat their homes.

Turnbull must change policies or he will perish (Opinion)
AUSTRALIA – “The one thing that is clear about our current situation is the trajectory. We have lost 30 Newspolls in a row.” With that pronouncement, Malcolm Turnbull launched his coup against first-term Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott. His pitch to his party colleagues and to the public was almost entirely centred around the dire polling situation for the Australian government. It was a problem of style, not a problem of policy. At that fateful press conference and all subsequent public appearances, Malcolm Turnbull has reiterated the same message. The policies were right. The problem was the salesman and the marketing.

Time to snap the axis of climate mood disorder in Australia
The most telling moment after the Liberal leadership spill on Monday night for anyone interested in climate policy was when new PM Malcolm Turnbull was asked during his press conference about possible changes to policy substance. He hesitated. Just a fraction, and just enough to reveal a man at least partly conflicted. Of course he would want change to policy. Significant big change. Despite what he claimed, the foul mood of the electorate that helped Turnbull topple Tony Abbott as PM was not because it didn’t understand existing policies – it hated them. Changes to policy would occur, of course they would, but with consensus and in a collegiate and collaborative manner, said the PM designate.

Food Systems

All out of fresh ideas: how supermarket giants send mixed messages about food
Australia’s two main supermarket chains Coles and Woolworths’ representation of “fresh” and “local” food reflects heightened interest among consumers about these values. But they also contribute to concerns about food production and the supply chain. Both have employed celebrity chefs with a reputation for caring about such matters… The problem is that [celebrity] claims and the supermarket’s promotion suggest that standards and ethics – as well as the growers asked to fund messages about themselves – are well regarded by the public. This is due, in part, to the strategies of producers and small retailers that the two supermarkets have appropriated to win the custom of consumers who care where their food comes from.

Let it bee
NEW ZEALAND – To bee or not to bee; that is the question. When I was a kid, I was not a fan of these airborne honey-makers. The little buggers caused me pain on a regular basis, stabbing my feet with their little arse-swords as I ran barefoot over paddocks full of flowering clover. They buzzed around my face at picnics. They seemed unpredictable, dangerous, a winged nuisance of the highest order. But once I grew up and became an enthusiastic gardener, I came to admire their industriousness as they toiled from dawn ’til dusk, collecting nectar and pollinating my plants… But what if you threw a party and nobody came?


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