Sustainable Development News

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

Losing bees will sting more than just our taste for honey
While European (managed) honey bees steal the limelight, other wild (non-honey) bees are just as important for pollinating crops and will also be impacted by climate change. Data from all over the globe suggest that both groups are in decline, but since we do not have a global integrated and complete monitoring system of bee populations, these data do not describe the full extent of the problem. So how well equipped are bees to survive a warming climate, and is there anything we can do to help?

Energy and Climate Change

Carbon tax zombies? Direct Action, emissions trading and the carbon tax explained (Explainer)
AUSTRALIA – The Sydney tabloid has obtained a draft policy document from Labor outlining options for its climate change policy if it was to win government. And it says Labor has secretly drafted plans for a modified version of the original “carbon tax” that the Gillard government established. Labor rejects this, saying it is pushing on with its long-standing plan to bring in an emissions trading scheme… So is Labor really wanting to bring in a carbon tax? Or two for that matter? There has been much myth-making in the Australian climate debate in recent times. So to navigate our way through this latest bout let’s go back to first principles.

Australia hit its Kyoto target, but it was more a three-inch putt than a hole in one
AUSTRA LIA – In the saga of mendacity that is the climate policy debate, no claim has been more audacious than the one now being told by the federal government about Australia’s “success” in meeting its Kyoto emissions target… Anyone who remembers how the Kyoto targets were set will understand how hollow this boast is. Australia went to the 1997 climate conference in Kyoto to play hardball. Prime Minister John Howard was never enthusiastic about addressing global warming but public sentiment meant his government had to be part of the emerging global consensus to do something serious. And so the Australian delegation – stacked, incredibly enough, with representatives of the fossil fuel industries and led by environment minister Robert Hill – insisted that Australia be given special treatment.

FactCheck: has Australia met its climate goals, while other nations make ‘airy-fairy promises’?

“The difference between Australia and a lot of other countries … is when we make commitments to reduce emissions we keep them. Other countries make all these airy fairy promises, that in the end never come to … anything.” – Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, July 13, 2015.

There are two parts to the Prime Minister’s statement: in the first, he affirms that to date Australia has been true to its emissions reduction commitments; in the second, he suggests that other countries have not.

Small scale hydropower can provide stream of new jobs to rural regions
UK – Micro-hydro, the generation of electricity from small streams, has begun to take off in rural Wales. The country’s geography makes small-scale hydropower a viable alternative source of energy and, for struggling rural areas, a source of income and jobs.

Big Hydro Threatens to Wipe Out Little Hydro in Malaysia
Nestled within the rain forest of Malaysian Borneo, a handful of villages are so remote they don’t even have roads. They do, however, have electricity. The villages draw on the nearby Papar River’s current to generate enough power to run lights, refrigerators, and phone-chargers for up to 50 households. The systems, dubbed “microhydro,” are small-scale versions of the same hydroelectric dams that help power large cities. Now, however, a controversial proposal to build a bigger dam threatens to wipe out at least six villages with such systems that are either installed or almost complete. The Kaiduan dam would provide drinking water and electricity for urban areas on the west coast.

Biomass Boiler Helps Dewar’s Distillery Cut CO2 by 90%
The Dewar’s Aberfeldy Distillery in Scotland has cut its carbon footprint by 90 percent after installing a biomass boiler late last year. Traditionally, distilleries are heavy users of fossil fuels, but this is the latest example of investment in biomass gaining traction industry-wide. “Moving away from boilers that use heavy fuel oil – to more efficient wood pellets – helps reduce energy costs and lower emissions into the environment,” a spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said in a statement.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Five lessons from the fossil fuel divestment movement
“We’re here to take on the most powerful industry in the world!” came the cry from the stage as around 300 fossil fuel divestment campaigners gathered in a London venue strewn with banners of every colour. Organised by with support from the Guardian, the event last Saturday played host to organisations across the movement including the thinktank Carbon Tracker, responsible investment charity ShareAction and arts organisation BP or not BP. Whether new to the climate movement targeting the fossil fuel industry or already victors of their own campaigns, they came to meet and learn from each other.

Environment and Biodiversity

Birds Are Dying As Drought Ravages Avian Highways
Suisun City, California—In years past, long-billed dowitchers flying in from Alaska could count on California stopovers to offer vast stretches of fresh melted snow teeming with plants and insects. But now, as the Sierra Nevada snowpack has vanished and clouds offer little rain, few lush sanctuaries are available to sustain these shorebirds on their journey along the avian highway known as the Pacific flyway. Experts say that once the dowitchers arrive in the Central Valley this month, their prospects look bleak.

Arctic deal bans North Pole fishing
The US and Russia are among five countries to have signed a deal to prevent commercial fishing in the melting Arctic sea ice near the North Pole. Norway, Canada and Denmark also backed the agreement signed in Oslo. Although the central Arctic is unlikely to have fish stocks for some time, scientists believe they will arrive as thinning ice melts in the summer. Several neighbouring nations have submitted claims to Arctic territory.

Warming of oceans due to climate change is unstoppable, say US scientists
The warming of the oceans due to climate change is now unstoppable after record temperatures last year, bringing additional sea-level rise, and raising the risks of severe storms, US government climate scientists said on Thursday. The annual State of the Climate in 2014 report, based on research from 413 scientists from 58 countries, found record warming on the surface and upper levels of the oceans, especially in the North Pacific, in line with earlier findings of 2014 as the hottest year on record.

Ant-Man’s Real-Life Rivals
From ants with incredibly strong jaws to shrimp with uber-speedy strikes, many animals are worthy of superhero status. “We tend to associate fast things with large stuff in engineering because we power using combustion. But you can get more muscle power at a smaller size,” says Sheila Patek, a biologist at Duke University. Here are a few examples of what nature has to offer—should the Avengers come a-calling.

Queensland Government has ‘absolutely no intentions’ of changing shark control program
The Queensland Government has ruled out changes to its controversial shark control program. Vision aired on ABC News yesterday showed animals including turtles and dolphins caught in shark nets and drum lines in waters off the Gold Coast… The control program was set up by the Government in 1962. Last year, it netted 667 sharks, but 131 other marine animals were also killed after becoming caught.

Economy and Business

UK running out of money to pay for clean energy
The government is struggling to pay for new clean energy supplies which could result in a rise in household bills or a major cut in investment in renewable technologies. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has already overspent its budget to support renewable energy projects over the next five years by £1.5bn, senior sources said.  Unless ministers increase the budget still further, the UK could struggle to meet legally binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Politics and Society

46 Tips for Better Sustainability Storytelling
Everybody loves a list, right? Right. Well, here’s mine – a 46-point manifesto-like checklist for anybody looking to communicate corporate sustainability. It’s not rocket science. But as the following pointers suggest, there’s every opportunity to get it wrong and a plethora of reasons to get it right.

Piketty’s Capital should force a rethink on animals as property
Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century argues that there are good reasons that human labour should be treated separately from capital. The most obvious is that: “Human capital cannot be owned by another person or traded on a market.” Seeing as we do not live in a slave society anymore, it makes no sense to treat human labour as a form of “capital”. But what about animals as capital? Should animals be treated like other forms of property such as land, machinery and “stocks”? What role do animals that are owned by humans play in the concept of global wealth?

Thousands of handwritten ‘pledges’ against mining giant Adani handed to Brisbane office in protest
AUSTRALIA – More than 2,000 handwritten personal messages opposing plans for major coal mines in Queensland have been delivered to the Brisbane office of Adani. Over 150 protesters marched on the steps of the international mining company’s CBD office to speak out against the coal mining projects planned for Queensland’s Galilee Basin and Abbot Point. Instead of angry chants, protesters expressed their views by writing them on orange material and holding them in the air as they marched.

Built Environment

Designers create the ‘impossible’ zero-carbon house
Designers at Cardiff University say they have constructed the sort of house George Osborne once described as impossible.  The chancellor scrapped a requirement for new homes to be zero carbon by 2016 because he said it would prove too expensive.  But Cardiff University say they have built a house that exports more power to the grid than it uses. And crucially they say the cost fell within the normal budget for social housing.  A government spokesman said house builders needed to be given more time to develop low energy homes.

The world’s first hybrid bulldozer impresses North Otago man
NEW ZEALAND – The world’s first hybrid bulldozer packs a turbocharged 235-horsepower diesel engine and a North Otago man owns two of them. Chris Manson, an earthworks manager at Plateau Works, says Caterpillar’s new D7E bulldozer is a turbocharged diesel – a 9.3 litre inline-six which makes 235 horsepower.

Sam Judd: Tuhoe and NZ’s first ‘living building’
NEW ZEALAND – In my work we collaborate with local Tangata Whenua frequently and I love it. I particularly like how Maori take a long-term view when it comes to decision making, rather than the ‘boom and bust’ mentality that sees so much destruction of our natural resources… But to me, nothing encapsulates this notion better than the new spiritual home of Tuhoe in Taneatua, near Whakatane.

Food Systems

Crop trial could make chicken poo the solution for Mallee sandy soils
Every year farmers in the South Australia’s Mallee region, apply one-off doses of urea and other fertilisers, to help boost their crops.  But now a five-year trial is underway to test if chicken manure will make a difference to the soil nutrient profile.  The sandy soils of the Mallee region, combined with low rainfalls can make cropping difficult, but Chairman of the Lowbank Agricultural Bureau, Brenton Kroehn, is hopeful chicken manure will boost yields.

Eight ways business and government could make healthy eating easier
Google “healthy eating” and you will be presented with some 73m search results. The wealth of information at our fingertips is overwhelming and often contradictory, but businesses and governments could make it easier for us, as panellists in our recent live discussion explained.


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