Sustainable Development News

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

How existentialism can shield us from the free market’s dark side
The smell of cinnamon wafts through the air. My guard is down; resistance is futile. Like a zombie, I roll my luggage across the airport food court and stand in line to pay too much for what I don’t even want, a diet-killing Cinnabon. I have been phished, at least that’s how two Nobel laureates would describe my experience in their new book Phishing for Phools and in their article The Dark Side of Free Markets. That is, a company has manipulated my weak will to get me to buy something sweet… In my new book The Free Market Existentialist: Capitalism without Consumerism, I put responsibility back on the individual, who is smarter and more capable than Akerlof and Shiller recognize.

Energy and Climate Change

The US Clean Energy Revolution In Three (or Four) Charts
In what amounts to a giant group hug for the taxpaying public, the US Department of Energy is out with the latest update to its series of Revolution…Now clean energy reports. The new update takes us up to 2014 to underscore how quickly clean energy is taking root in the US, thanks in part to government support for developing new technologies and pushing them into the marketplace. The latest Revolution…Now is also a not so thinly veiled Dear John letter to the fossil fuel industry in general and in particular, to ExxonMobil.

El Niño: food shortages, floods, disease and droughts set to put millions at risk
The UN has warned of months of extreme weather in many of the world’s most vulnerable countries with intense storms, droughts and floods triggered by one of the strongest El Niño weather events recorded in 50 years, which is expected to continue until spring 2016. El Niño is a natural climatic phenomenon that sees equatorial waters in the eastern Pacific ocean warm every few years. This disrupts regular weather patterns such as monsoons and trade winds, and increases the risk of food shortages, floods, disease and forest fires.

G20 faces 600,000-strong call to dump fossil fuel subsidies
Almost 600,000 people have signed a petition calling on G20 Governments to end fossil fuel subsidies and reallocate the funds towards helping poor countries deal with climate change.  The petition, hosted by campaign group Avaaz, comes just days after a report revealed that G20 Governments collectively handed out $452bn in subsidies for fossil fuels in both 2013 and 2014 – four times the amount allocated globally for renewables.

$1.7b coal seam gas development on Queensland’s Western Downs gets go-ahead
QGC has announced it is going ahead with a $1.7 billion coal seam gas development on Queensland’s Western Downs. The company, along with partners China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and Tokyo Gas Australia (TGA), will proceed with the development of its gas tenements known as the Charlie Fields, west of Wandoan.

How much do you know about climate change? Take our quiz
As the world gears up towards a crucial summit on tackling global warming, test your own green credentials with our quiz.

Paris 2015: UN Conference on Climate Change

France to push on with UN Climate Conference despite Paris terror attacks
London: The French government has vowed to push on with the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris this month and will boost security for world leaders following Friday night’s deadly terrorist attack. “It will go ahead with reinforced security measures,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters in Vienna. “This is an absolutely necessary step in the battle against climate change and of course it will take place.”

People’s Climate March to be largest in history
People and public organisations around New Zealand [and the world] are banding together to stage the largest climate march in the history of the country – and they implore you to join them. The mobilisation on Saturday 28 November will also make up part of a bigger picture – a global movement against climate change, timed to coincide with the approaching international climate conference in Paris.

Report: Majority of Business Leaders Call for Climate Agreement in Paris
A majority of business leaders say that a long term agreement at the UN climate summit (COP21) in Paris is critical to supporting private sector investment in low carbon solutions, according to a global study by the United Nations Global Compact and Accenture. The UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study report, Special Edition: A Call to Climate Action, also reveals that executives see action on climate change as an opportunity for growth and innovation that will be essential to securing competitive advantage in their industries.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Gates Foundation would be $1.9bn better off if it had divested from fossil fuels
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would have had $1.9bn (£1.3bn) more to spend on its lifesaving health projects if it had divested from fossil fuels and instead invested in greener companies, according to a new analysis.  The Canadian research company Corporate Knights examined the stock holdings of 14 funds, worth a combined $1tn, and calculated how they would have performed if they had dumped shares in oil, coal and gas companies three years ago.

Environment and Biodiversity

Bees struggle to produce honey as lack of rain takes toll
AUSTRALIA – The drought that has affected farmers throughout most of Queensland is also hurting beekeepers and reducing honey production.  Honey producers rely heavily on rainfall, as it boosts the growth of flowers that bees use to make honey and, secondly, as bees need drinking water.  Knobel Honey owner Jo Knobel, based in Clermont, Central Queensland, said the lack of rain in the past couple of years had hit her bee hives hard. “Where we’ve got them, we’ve got a dam, but it’s gone dry,” she said. “So basically, we have to cart water out to our bees for them to drink.”

Bug makes rats throw caution to the wind
NEW ZEALAND – Show a rat a weird, new thing like a pest trap and they shun it – but not if they have a certain parasite in their bloodstream. Rats’ tendencies to avoid anything new, a smart evolutionary behaviour, is a massive problem for the Department of Conservation, so now hopes are being pinned on a parasite.

Intelligence tests being done on the Kea
New Zealand’s kea could be one business-savvy bird, new research suggests. Auckland University biologist Dr Alex Taylor and his team are carrying out intelligence tests on the native mountain parrots to better understand how clever they are, as part of a broader study into how intelligence evolves. Although the research is still in its early stages, Taylor said the kea had displayed a penchant for commerce.

Rotorua falcon chick makes New Zealand history
A endangered pair of falcons have mated and seen their first babies born. Two of the New Zealand falcons (karearea) released into Rotorua’s Government Gardens as part of a New Zealand-first endangered bird release have paired up, mated and their eggs have just hatched in the Whakarewarewa Forest… the nest, known as a scrape, is on the ground so the chicks are vulnerable to both predators and disturbance.

Yellow-eyed penguin nest numbers hit rock bottom
The yellow-eyed penguin/hōiho breeding season is looking bleak again this year, with nest numbers reaching their lowest in 25 years. The Department of Conservation, the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and key groups involved with penguin monitoring have been counting nests for the past month. The results of this indicate nest numbers across Otago-Southland have dropped from 491 pairs in 2012 to just 160 counted so far this season. Some sites are still to be searched but numbers will probably not exceed 190 pairs.

Waimate scientist seeks funding to research nitrogen reducing plant
NEW ZEALAND – Waimate farmer and zoologist Dr Norman Davis is unable to get funding for research into a native plant he believes would help dairy farmers reduce nitrogen loss. Davis says he is intrigued by the possibilities of growing Azolla filiculoides , a  tiny floating fern, to reduce nitrogen leaching into waterways. The fern grows in red ‘mats’ on the surface of the water and is widespread in New Zealand. It is easily confused with an introduced species, Azolla pinnata, used by Asian rice farmers to generate nitrogen in their fields. It also has the ability to absorb a certain amount of heavy metal pollution from contaminated water.

Economy and Business

G20: Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time
The G20 group has today underlined it commitment to delivering a “fair, balanced, ambitious, durable and dynamic” Paris Agreement for tackling global greenhouse gas emissions, declaring that climate change remains “one of the greatest challenges of our time”. The communique published at the close of the two day Antalya Summit in Turkey included a lengthy section on “buttressing sustainability” that underscored leaders’ public commitment to tackling climate change and enhancing sustainable development.

Our Brain on Purpose
Psychology teaches us that humans are irrational, adaptable, constantly changing beings with cognitive abilities greater than any other animal. Economics would have us think we are rational, unchanging, robots devoid of empathy or feelings towards anyone else. So what happens when these two branches of the social science tree meet: welcome to behavioral economics.

Refugee crisis must not deflect us from our long-term development aims
In the week after European and African leaders met in Malta to discuss the impact of the migration and refugee crisis, it is worth underlining the fundamental importance of long-term development to alleviate such crises and make them less likely to recur.

What do ‘corporate values’ actually mean? An interactive dictionary
Companies like to tout their corporate values, which often include terms such as ‘authentic’ and ‘green’. But what do these words actually mean? Explore our interactive dictionary of some of the most commonly used terms in corporate values.

HSBC injects $1bn into green bond portfolio
HSBC has become the latest bank to ramp up its commitment to sustainable business with the launch of a new $1bn green bond portfolio that will be used to fund projects in the renewable energy sector.  The bank has pledged to place the $1bn portfolio into ‘high-quality liquid assets’, forming green and sustainable bonds. The portfolio will cover a range of potential projects including renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean transportation and climate change adaptions.

Politics and Society

Exxon climate revelations are just part of a long history of science misinformation
A recent investigation by Pulitzer Prize winner Inside Climate News has uncovered damning activity by fossil fuel company Exxon. Long before they supplied millions of dollars to conservative think-tanks who misinformed the public about climate science, Exxon’s own scientists informed them of the scientific consensus that fossil fuel burning would cause disruptive climate change. This echoes past activity of the tobacco industry, who knew from internal research about the health consequences of smoking but nevertheless funded misinformation casting doubt on the link between smoking and cancer. The same misinformation tactics employed by the tobacco industry are used by the fossil fuel industry.

Leadbeater’s possum national park plans dealt a blow
AUSTRALIA – A plan for a new national park to protect the endangered Leadbeater’s possum has been dealt a blow with revelations VicForests locked in millions of dollars’ worth of new logging contracts. State Labor ducked a proposal to create a Great Forest national park stretching from Kinglake to Mt Baw Baw and north-east up to Eildon in the recent state election, instead announcing a taskforce made up of environment groups, scientists, the union and the forestry industry. The decision to set up the taskforce to strike a “consensus” followed pressure during the campaign from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and and Energy Union, which had threatened to campaign against Labor on concerns that ending logging in the area would threaten Gippsland jobs.

Busselton swimmers enjoy first weekend of new beach enclosure; expert questions shark fears
Swimmers in the West Australian south west city of Busselton spent their first weekend enjoying the newly-installed beach enclosure off the popular foreshore… A similar enclosure was trialled at a nearby Dunsborough beach… In both cases, the barriers will be removed at the end of summer, and it is then clinical psychologist and lecturer at University of Western Australia, Neil McLean thinks underlying concerns may arise.

Recyclery teaching young men with disabilities to restore unwanted bikes for re-sale
AUSTRALI A – A bike repair workshop in Canberra’s north is giving young men with disabilities the skills to fix discarded bikes for re-sale. Based out of The Green Shed recycled goods centre in Mitchell, the Recyclery is a space where volunteers work with a group of young men to teach them valuable trade skills.

Built Environment

21 reasons we’re entering the “plyscraper” era
Timber is the new concrete, according to professor Alex de Rijke, former dean of the School of Architecture at the London College of Art and founder of dRMM architecture. Mr de Rijke is currently in Australia to present a series of talks for WoodSolutions about the opportunities offered by engineered timbers for major construction, and to add fuel to calls for federal, state and local governments to adopt “wood encouragement” policies for publicly funded buildings.

Food Systems

China’s bottled water industry eyes up the Tibetan plateau
In the last two decades China has become the world’s largest bottled water consumer and a major producer. With per capita consumption 19% lower than global average, the market is expected to continue to grow. Although it currently makes up a small proportion of China’s annual bottled water production, water from Tibet’s mountain glaciers is seen as the new point of growth for China’s booming bottled water industry.

Is Growing at Home the Future of Food?
The case for a localised, even home-based food growing system is being made by the Open Agriculture Lab (OAL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They recently suggested that as much as 40% of an urban diet could eventually be produced in a domestic context, cutting down on transportation costs, while providing fresher and more nutritious food.


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