Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Plankton are the most important producers of oxygen and, now, a new species has been named after a television series.  Also in today’s news, more about developments of the National Energy Guarantee in Australia, read about on of the last great migrations left on Earth, how consumers are pushing Berkshire Hathaway to produce more clean energy, the UK has committed to legislating a net zero emissions, and two stories, on solar and EVs, reminding us that solutions to wicked problems are never simple and we should remember to keep the bigger picture in mind.

Top Story

Plankton named after BBC Blue Planet series | BBC News
A type of plankton described as part of “the beating heart” of the oceans has been named after the BBC’s Blue Planet series. The tiny plant-like organism is regarded as a key element of the marine ecosystem.  Scientists at University College London (UCL) bestowed the honour on Sir David Attenborough and the documentary team… During a visit to UCL to receive the honour, Sir David said it was “a great compliment” and he was delighted that it would help raise awareness of the importance of plankton to the oceans. “If you said that plankton, the phytoplankton, the green oxygen-producing plankton in the oceans is more important to our atmosphere than the whole of the rainforest, which I think is true, people would be astonished.”

Climate Change and Energy

Warming climate to nearly double demand for cooling appliances | The Guardian
A burgeoning middle class and a warming world will result in energy demand for cooling overtaking that for heating by the middle of the century, researchers have predicted. Energy use for air conditioning, refrigeration and other cooling appliances will jump 90% on 2017 levels, experts estimated, posing a challenge for energy grids and efforts to curb climate change.

Renewable energy capacity set to exceed target Federal Government said was impossible | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – In its quarterly Renewable Energy Index, GEM said the amount of renewable energy generated in 2020 was set to exceed the original 41,000 Gigawatt hour (GWh) Renewable Energy Target (RET) that was in place before being scrapped in 2015 by the federal government led by then prime minister Tony Abbott.

Diesel-busting portable solar technology wins ARENA backing | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – A Canberra based engineering firm has won financial backing from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to trial the pop-up mobile solar solution it is hoping will help displace diesel generators as the go-to source of temporary power supply.

Fracking set to resume in the Northern Territory as moratorium lifted | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Fracking is set to resume in the Northern Territory, following the Government’s decision to lift a moratorium but enforce strict new laws and regulations on the industry. Chief Minister Michael Gunner said all 135 recommendations of a recent scientific inquiry would be implemented in full, as he announced the decision on Tuesday morning.

Environment and Biodiversity

Watch Central Nebraska’s Annual Sandhill Crane Migration | National Geographic
USA – Sandhill cranes have been migrating through Nebraska for thousands of years. Their stopover in Nebraska’s Central Platte River Valley is considered one of the last great animal migrations on Earth. Although the cranes have been making the trek for generations, today, the prairie is threatened by human encroachment. Only 10 percent of the habitat is suitable for sandhill cranes, says Bill Taddicken, director of the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary in Gibbon. Agricultural use and urban development have stunted the once open and thriving grasslands along the river.

Progress in war on wilding pines that threaten iconic NZ landscapes |
NEW ZEALAND – The National Wilding Conifer Control programme has made significant progress containing a major weed infestation of iconic New Zealand high country landscapes and expects to complete 1.8 million hectares of control work by the end of this season.

Wilding pines are changing the landscape. Wilding pines near lake Pukaki. Photo: John Bisset/Stuff

Wilding pines are changing the landscape. Wilding pines near lake Pukaki. Photo: John Bisset/Stuff

Amazon coral reef would be ruined by planned oil drilling, scientists say | The Guardian
BRAZIL – Scientists aboard a Greenpeace ship have discovered a massive and unique coral reef near the mouth of the Amazon, in an area where the French company Total intends to drill for oil. The 1,000km long and 56,000 sq km Amazon coral reef is a biome thought to contain dozens of undiscovered species that environmentalists say would be irreparably damaged if drilling for oil began – a vision at odds with the wish of oil companies hoping to explore the area’s vast estimated reserves.

Economy and Business

How to push buildings to new levels of efficiency | GreenBiz
A new wave of building efficiency that uses data collection and machine learning to make a building’s appliances use power more efficiently, is being led by San Francisco startups Carbon Lighthouse and Redaptive. Unlike other efficiency providers — also known as energy service companies — that manufacture and sell appliances or sell electricity, the companies don’t sell anything except their ability to reduce a building’s energy use and power bills. Both companies have been growing rapidly and recently raised venture capital investment to expand.

Why Berkshire Hathaway’s utility is aiming for 100 percent renewable energy | GreenBiz
Falling prices for solar and wind power, and support from customers, is helping the Iowa utility owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway gain on its goal of generating 100 percent renewable energy for its customers, a company executive said. MidAmerican Energy, one of four utilities that Berkshire owns, is in one of the windiest places in the United States. As the cost of wind and solar power continues to fall, it makes sense for the company to boost investment in renewables, said Jonathan Weisgall, vice president for government relations at Berkshire Hathaway Energy. But a major force driving the utility’s renewable energy plans are its customers, who want more clean energy. 

Social enterprise real estate agency launches in Sydney | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – A real estate agency launched in Sydney last week aims to change the game on affordable housing by connecting those in need with investment property owners keen to be part of the solution.

Waste and the Circular Economy

I kept all my plastic for a year – the 4,490 items forced me to rethink | The Guardian
Daniel Webb accrued a mountain of plastic – including many packets of Hula Hoops – and made it into a mural, now on display at Dreamland in Margate. We are overproducing and overconsuming, he says, and recycling is not the answer.

‘People say: wow, you really like Hula Hoops.’ Photograph: Ollie Harrop 2018/Everyday Plastic

‘People say: wow, you really like Hula Hoops.’ Photograph: Ollie Harrop 2018/Everyday Plastic

Investment in recycling would mean more Australian jobs | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – About 500 jobs could be created if Australia domestically remanufactured 50 per cent of the material formerly sent to China before a ban on waste imports, according to a new report. The report, commissioned by the Australian Council of Recycling (ACOR) and conducted by MRA Consulting, found that investment in domestic remanufacturing could also significantly reduce carbon emissions equivalent to taking 50,000 cars off the road. The release of the report has been timed to occur before state and federal environment ministers meet next week to consider a national response to the waste crisis caused by China’s national sword policy banning certain waste imports.

Politics and Society

The dark side of solar | Brookings
Fossil fuels still supply most of the world’s energy needs. Today, solar power provides just 2 percent of the world’s electricity, and the generation of electricity, in turn, accounts for just a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. To avert catastrophic climate change, the world will have to nearly eliminate its emissions shortly after midcentury—a goal known as deep decarbonization—which will require the most ambitious overhaul of the world’s energy infrastructure in human history.

UK will legislate net-zero carbon emissions target, says minister | Climate Home News
The UK will draft new laws that will cut emissions to net-zero, climate minister Claire Perry announced on Tuesday. In a submission to the UN’s climate change agency, Perry said: “The UK will need to legislate for a net-zero emissions target at an appropriate point in the future to provide legal certainty on where the UK is heading.”

Africa holds EU climate agenda ransom | Climate Home News
As Europe tries to bend the world to its view of how the Paris climate deal should work, it will need the world’s poorest continent. But Africa plans to make it hurt. Negotiators will meet in Bonn at the end of this month to begin the most important year in climate talks since the 2015 deal. In December, countries are due to agree a set of governing rules for the Paris Agreement and those who left the French capital unsatisfied – particularly from the developing world – aren’t going to let the moment pass.

Australia’s slow march towards a National Energy Guarantee is gathering pace | The Conversation
The finer policy details of the of the proposed National Energy Guarantee (NEG) have begun to leak onto newspaper front pages and websites, ahead of Friday’s crucial meeting of federal and state energy ministers. The good news is that the leaked information suggests solid progress has been made over the past couple of months on both the emissions and reliability components of the policy. Many of the more extreme and dramatic suggestions contained in the Energy Security Board’s February consultation paper appear to have died a quiet death. What we’re left with is a more sober proposal that does its best to use existing markets and practices – more evolution than revolution.

Other NEG news:

Climate change committee members announced | Radio New Zealand News
NEW ZEALAND – The government’s Climate Change Commission has come one step closer with an expert committee appointed to begin the groundwork. The interim committee will begin investigating how New Zealand will transition to a net zero emissions economy by 2050 and consider other matters such as how agriculture can be brought in to the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Seabed mining consent challenged in court | Radio New Zealand News
NEW ZEALAND – Consent to mine ironsand off the south Taranaki coast was approved without proper data to show how many endangered species live there, the High Court has been told. The second day of submissions on an appeal against the consent is under way in Wellington.

Power to the hosts: how to fix volunteer tourism | The Conversation
Volunteer tourism is the intersection between tourism and volunteering. It involves travellers participating in organised short-term voluntary work to help communities, the environment and/or research in the places they visit.  Late last year, World Challenge – the world’s biggest school-based volunteer travel company – stopped offering trips to orphanages in the developing world, based on evidence of the harms done to children by the industry. So what has gone wrong? How could the feel-good darling of tourism become so tarnished? And, more importantly, how can we change it for the better?

Built Environment

Not so fast: why the electric vehicle revolution will bring problems of its own | The Conversation
Compared with combustion engines, electric transport has obvious advantages for emissions and human health. Transport is responsible for around 23% of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions globally. This is expected to double by 2050.  Motor vehicles also put a burden on society, especially in urban environments where they are chiefly responsible for noise and air pollution. Avoiding these issues is why electric vehicles are considered a key technology in cleaning up the transport sector. However, electric cars come with problems of their own.

Electric water taxi trialled in Switzerland | RenewEconomy
SWITZERLAND – Is it a car? Is it a boat? Is it… kind of both? Swiss based tech giant ABB has trialled a “futuristic new design” of electric water taxi on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, which it is hailing as a milestone in the development of zero emissions transport.

Electric water taxi Switzerland


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