Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

Steven Chu warns UK its nuclear plans risk becoming financial drain
A world-leading energy expert has warned that although the British government is right to proceed with new nuclear plants they risk becoming a “financial drain” unless they can be built on time and on budget. Steven Chu, the former US energy secretary and Nobel prizewinning physicist, believes using a variety of different reactor designs – as the UK looks poised to do – is not the best way to keep costs down. “Unless we can learn to build nuclear on schedule and on budget it will be a financial drain. Other countries have learned how to do this: South Korea has built 10 plants exactly the same and the tenth plant was only 60% of the cost of the original one. The cost came marching down because they just kept doing the same thing,” he told the Guardian.

Study: China Can Cut Emissions and Grow Economy
China can reduce carbon and air pollution and grow its economy, according to a Tsinghua University study released a week after a landmark climate change target agreement between the US and China. The study, China and the New Climate Economy, recommends the country set a medium- to long-term target for emissions and use the target as a guide and forcing mechanism to transform economic and social development and accelerate energy conservation and carbon reduction. The report examines a target where CO2 emissions would stop increasing around 2030 and begin to fall shortly after.

Environment and Biodiversity

IUCN Recognizes World’s Top Reserves
For 50 years, conservation efforts on behalf of the world’s endangered species have been guided—and goaded—by the Red List of Threatened Species from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This list—with its familiar categories including “least concern,” “vulnerable,” “critically endangered,” and the irreversible “extinct”—has provided a way of keeping tabs on the state of the planet’s biodiversity. Now the IUCN has launched a new list—not for plants and animals, but for the protected areas that are often crucial to their survival. The Green List of Protected Areas was announced Friday at the IUCN’s once-per-decade World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia. The list gives recognition to protected areas that are successfully meeting their objectives.

Marine parks for fish and people: here’s how to do it
As thousands gather for the World Parks Congress in Sydney, there are growing calls for a new marine park in Sydney Harbour. New South Wales’s Labor opposition has promised, if elected, to establish the park, and there is speculation the state government will announce its own plan at the congress. But marine parks have proved controversial in NSW, culminating in sanctuary zones (where fishing was banned) being opened to recreational fishers last year. Meanwhile, the federal government is reviewing the management of Australia’s commonwealth marine parks. New management plans proposed under the previous Labor government have been suspended, effectively leaving a system of parks “on paper”, with little protection. So how can we get marine parks right?

Abbott government blasted for stalling on marine parks
Environmental groups have blasted Environment Minister Greg Hunt for taking credit for marine protection efforts that his government has stalled since taking office. Mr Hunt told the World Parks Congress in Sydney that more than a third of Australia’s marine environment is protected, the groups say, omitting the fact the Coalition government had suspended the creation of 40 new marine parks.  Late last year, the government halted plans for a new national network of marine parks that had been scheduled to become operational by July this year. The parks would cover about 35 per cent o Australia’s exclusive economic zone – the world’s third largest – with 14 per cent of the zone highly protected.

Heather Shotter: Auckland must take long view for all three harbours
Since the triennial environment report State of our Gulf 2014 was published last month, there has been much discussion about the continuing degradation of the Hauraki Gulf as a result of human activities. Constant monitoring of our marine environment is essential and the Committee for Auckland applauds the work to develop a strategic framework for positive and sustainable change in the Gulf. We also look forward to recommendations in the Hauraki Gulf Spatial Plan, but it is not due for another year. Meanwhile, the downward trend of our marine environment continues. Our water quality is being severely impacted by increased contamination while invasive marine species pose an alarming threat. This should concern all New Zealanders.

Centuries-Old Fishery at Risk in a South African Marine Park
As the number of fish traps in Kosi Bay increases and commercial interests intrude, fish populations are in jeopardy… [Story from] iSIMANGALISO WETLAND PARK, South Africa—Themba Mkhonto was thigh-deep in the warm water of Kosi Bay, an estuary near the Mozambique border, when I waded 100 yards from the shore to talk to him. He was repairing his fish trap, which he told me had belonged to his father and his grandfather before him. Fish trapping is a centuries-old tradition here. No bait is involved. The fish follow a brushwood palisade, curved like a hook, that guides them into one or more circular pens, called kraals. They get into the kraal through a cunning gate made of crisscrossed sticks; easy to enter, hard to exit.

Autism’s Gut-Brain Connection
Stress can send your stomach into a painful tailspin, causing cramps, spasms and grumbling. But trouble in the gut can also affect the brain. This two-way relationship may be an unlikely key to solving one of medicine’s most pressing—and perplexing—mysteries: autism. Nearly 60 years after the disorder was first identified, the number of cases has surged, and the United Nations estimates that up to 70 million people worldwide fall on the autism spectrum. Yet there is no known cause or cure. But scientists have found promising clues in the gut. Research has revealed striking differences in the trillions of bacteria – collectively known as the microbiome—in the intestines of autistic and healthy children.

Economy and Business

Global investment community can’t afford to ignore sustainability
Since its creation in 2006 the UN-supported Principles of Responsible Investment (PRI) has become a driver for sustainability in the global investment community. Its 1,300 signatories, from 53 countries, manage over £45tn of assets – around a fifth of the world’s capital – and it has enabled investors to use their influence to improve corporate behaviour on issues such as water risks and climate data. But despite this success the PRI must move further and faster to truly accelerate the growth of responsible investment and create a more just, sustainable world.  Next week the initiative will elect new members to its main governing body, an election in which I’m standing as a candidate, and this election must mark a new focus for PRI, moving from awareness-raising towards measuring and maximising impact.

8 Trends in Sustainability Reporting (Video)
How to improve your company’s sustainability reporting.

Costs of cutting leaching studied
Canterbury [New Zealand] farmers will plant chicory, plantain and other pasture alternatives as part of research to reduce nitrate leaching without losing farm income.  The research programme, led by DairyNZ, revolves around nine monitor farms throughout the Canterbury region, including four dairy farms, two arable farms, two sheep and beef farms, and a mixed arable and dairy farm.

This new bike bottle fills itself with water
It took Austrian designer Kristof Retezár more than 30 different trials in his bathroom, where he tinkered with temperature and humidity to mimic different climates, before he perfected his newest creation — a self-filling water bottle that could be a game-changer for bikers and water-scarce countries alike.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Can materials innovation save the world? (Video)
From creating leather handbags from old airplane seats, to making plastic out of sludge, materials innovation is taking place which could help solve huge resource scarcity problems. But are we moving fast enough? Can businesses, governments and consumers be persuaded to declare war on the word ‘waste’ and work instead to create new a permanent life for materials?  Jo Confino speaks to Sophie Thomas, co-director of design at of RSA, Scott Hamlin CEO of Looptworks, Richard Kirkman technical director of Veolia and Kresse Wesling co-founder of Elvis & Kresse about how to push forward sustainable innovation.

Recycling Program Diverts 240,000 Gallons of Paint
The PaintCare Program in Connecticut has collected more than 240,000 gallons of leftover paint for recycling in its first year. The program, launched in July 2013, is managed by the nonprofit PaintCare and was required by a state law and supported by the paint industry. It aims to make it more convenient for painting contractors, other businesses and resident to recycle unused and leftover paint. The program has a network of more than 130 drop-off sites that take back old paint. Most drop-off sites are paint retailers that accept paint from the public during their regular business hours. Another 25 sites are town transfer stations, and a few are household hazardous waste programs that accept paint from their own residents.

Politics and Society

Narrow G20 agenda must go ‘structural, social and green’
The G20 summit must “go structural, go social and go green”, says OECD secretary-general Angel Gurria. Speaking at Griffith University’s pre-summit conference in Brisbane, Mr Gurria said trade, investment and credit had yet to return to the levels of before the global financial crisis. A new strategy was needed to protect against growing unemployment. “To complicate matters further, the gap between the rich and the poor is at its highest level in 30 years and has intensified as a result of the crisis. Nothing like a good crisis to exacerbate inequalities, and the crisis we have is as good as it gets. It is absolutely critical the G20 delivers meaningful outcomes in Brisbane,” Mr Gurria said.

Obama, in latest climate move, to pledge $3 billion for global fund
President Barack Obama will announce a $3 billion U.S. contribution to an international fund to help poor countries cope with the effects of climate change, an administration official said on Friday. The large size of the contribution took climate policy watchers by surprise and doubles what other countries had previously pledged ahead of a Nov. 20 deadline. It would be the second major move on climate change taken by Obama after big Democratic losses in last week’s midterm elections. Obama is expected to announce the pledge at this weekend’s meeting of G-20 industrial nations in Australia. The Green Climate Fund will work with private sector investment and help spur global markets in clean energy technologies, creating opportunities for entrepreneurs and manufacturers including those from the United States.

Climate change in G20 communique after ‘trench warfare’
The final G20 communique includes a significant passage on climate change after “difficult discussions” among leaders on Sunday, and despite an impassioned defence of coal and fossil fuel industry by prime minister Tony Abbott. After much wrangling, the final leaders’ communique includes a recommendation for nations to commit funds to the UN’s Green Climate Fund that Prime Minister Tony Abbott opposes. According to sources, a clear majority of leaders – including US president Barack Obama – argued for stronger language in the  communique on climate change, to the apparent chagrin of Mr Abbott. Mr Abbott gave an impassioned defence of coal and, reportedly, argued against inserting a line in the communique recommending the abolition of fossil fuel subsidies, an objective of the G20 for many years.

Why those charges for plastic bags actually work
In cities like Washington, you know the drill: After bagging your groceries, the checkout machine asks you how many bags you used. And if you used plastic or disposable bags (rather than bags you brought on your own), you have to pay 5 cents per bag. Washington passed a law requiring as much in 2009 – a policy that states like New Jersey and New York are also considering, and that has been adopted around the world from Ireland and Scotland to South Africa. Some localities have gone farther still – California and Hawaii have effectively banned plastic bags outright – but recent research suggests that charges or fees can also be effective (and have the added benefit of being less coercive). Moreover, it suggests that they work, at least in part, through a surprising mechanism.

Built Environment

Green building scheme review adds yet more policy uncertainty
Australia’s policies to cut greenhouse emissions have been shrouded in uncertainty over the past few months. The contentious Renewable Energy Target review and the swapping of the carbon price for Direct Action have garnered most of the headlines. But another policy, which has quietly been cutting emissions for the past four years, is now also under scrutiny. The Commercial Building Disclosure (CBD) program is the latest federal environmental policy to be placed under review. The scheme encourages energy efficiency by requiring owners to detail whether their buildings are high or low energy users. It has strong support in both industry and politics.

Food Systems

Mondelez Boosts Sustainable Coffee Farming
Mondelez International, the world’s second largest coffee company with brands such as Jacobs, Carte Noire, Kenco and Tassimo, is boosting its sustainable agriculture initiatives by inviting a third-party to report on the impact of its Coffee Made Happy Program. The $200 million Coffee Made Happy program aims to improve farmers’ business and agricultural skills and increase farm yields.

One-third of shrimp is ‘misrepresented’ in U.S. stores and restaurants
Shrimp fraud is a serious problem in the U.S., with consumers often unaware of what they’re eating and where it comes from. As if the shrimp industry needed any more bad press, yet another alarming fact has come to light. Oceana, the world’s largest advocacy group dedicated to marine conservation, released a report last month revealing that one-third of all shrimp sold and consumed in the United States is misrepresented. In other words, consumers don’t actually know what they’re eating.

Tasmanian salmon producer Tassal achieves world first with WWF sustainability certification
A Tasmanian salmon producer has been recognised for its world leading sustainable fish farming practices. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) said Tassal was the first aquaculture company to recieve full Aquaculture Stewardship Council certification. While other producers have secured the certification for part of their operation, Tassal is the first to receive blanket coverage for every aspect of a fish-farming venture.


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