Sustainable Development News

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

With encyclical, Pope Francis elevates environmental justice
When the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose Francis as his papal name, he signaled to the world a dual commitment to sustainability and the global poor. His namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, was a man of poverty and peace who loved nature and animals, and is said to have preached his sermons to birds.

Energy and Climate Change

Hazelwood owner issues ‘call to arms’ against coal
The French company that owns the Hazelwood brown coal generator in Victoria – the dirtiest power station in Australia – has issued a “call to arms against coal.”  Gerard Mestrallet, the chairman CEO of GDF Suez, which now calls itself Engie as part of a major corporate make-over, signalled a big push against coal-fired generation in a series of meetings earlier this month at a major gas conference and a pre-Paris business seminar.

We can quibble over timescales, but real climate progress is afoot
The recent commitments by the leaders of G7 nations to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide to 40-70% below current levels by 2050, and to eliminate the use of fossil fuels altogether by 2100, have raised several questions. Are these objectives feasible? Are they consistent with national commitments? Are they sufficient to stabilise the global climate without dangerous rates of warming? And are they anything new?

Bioenergy can deliver cleaner future, says global report
A global bioenergy assessment has said biofuels could meet up to a third of the world’s transportation fuel needs by the middle of the century. The report – involving experts from 24 nations – said bioenergy had the potential to be a key driver in delivering a low-carbon future. It added that concerns that growth in the sector would increase food insecurities were misplaced. The details were outlined in Brussels as part of EU Sustainable Energy Week. The report, Bioenergy and Sustainability, was led by researchers from the Sao Paulo Research Foundation, Brazil.

US west coast toxic algae bloom might be largest ever, say scientists
A team of federal biologists set out from Oregon on Monday to survey what could be the largest toxic algae bloom ever recorded off the west coast. The effects stretch from central California to British Columbia, and possibly as far north as Alaska. Dangerous levels of the natural toxin domoic acid have shut down recreational and commercial shellfish harvests in Washington, Oregon and California this spring, including the lucrative Dungeness crab fishery off Washington’s southern coast and the state’s popular razor-clam season.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

SunCommon 401k divests from fossil fuels and invests in clean energy
SunCommon, a Vermont Benefit Corporation, has chosen to divest its 401k portfolio from fossil fuels. The divestment announcement was followed by a staff-wide educational presentation by Maeve McBride of 350VT and Dan Quinlan of In keeping with SunCommon’s legal charter that directs the company to attend to the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit, the 69 employees were offered mutual fund options that support clean energy.

Environment and Biodiversity

Finding More Ammo Than Animals In Huge African Rain Forest
A team of scientists undertook an unprecedented week-long trek last month deep into one of Africa’s largest rain forests. Their mission: survey the tropical wilderness and scout for animals such as endangered chimps, western lowland gorillas, and forest elephants. But instead of spying some of the 50-plus mammal species that call Cameroon’s remote Dja Faunal Reserve home, the team documented poaching camps and gun cartridges—and surprisingly few signs of animals.

Hope for Indonesia’s valuable but threatened mangroves
Indonesia is home to the largest tracts of mangrove forests on earth – but they are disappearing at a rate of up to 2% a year, faster than anywhere else in the world. A study by Conservation International (CI) in West Papua province is trying to determine the potential value of these mangroves, both for Indonesia – the world’s third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases – and for the Papuan communities that live among them.

How the world is running out of water
Drought-stricken California is not the only place draining underground aquifers in the hunt for fresh water. It’s happening across the world, according to two studies by United States researchers made public yesterday. Twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers – in locations from India and China to the United States and France – have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water is being removed than replaced from these vital underground reservoirs.

Electric shark guard proves effective for beach safety, researchers say
An anti-shark device that emits an electrical pulse has been found to be the most effective method of repelling the predator, and Perth researchers are confident it could be used on a larger scale to protect whole beaches. But West Australian Premier Colin Barnett was sceptical of the idea, saying he would not want his children swimming around an electric fence. Scientists from the University of Western Australia [UWA] examined the effectiveness of two existing shark deterrent devices and three new potential anti-shark technologies.

Economy and Business

Protect more bee species to safeguard crops, say scientists
Almost 80% of crop pollination by wild bees is provided by just 2% of the most common species, say scientists.  In the UK, a small number of bees are vital for crops such as oilseed rape, apples and strawberries, according to the University of Reading team.  But protecting a wide range of bees would “provide an insurance policy against future ecological shocks, such as climate change”, the scientists say.  The value of wild bee pollination is estimated at £1bn a year in the UK.

Can the Ikea generation buy into vintage furniture?
A new (made in China) chest of drawers has a carbon footprint 16 times higher than the antique equivalent per year, according to research commissioned by the International Antiques and Collectors Fairs (IACF). But buying antique and upcycled furniture remains a niche activity despite its green credentials, the enthusiasm of designers and success of upcycling websites like Remade in Britain and Etsy. The Antique Collectors Club Annual Furniture Index reports that the English antique furniture market is struggling, while a study into furniture retailing by Mintel, published in December 2014, shows growth in the new furniture market.

Lego invests £96m in search for greener building blocks
The Lego Group plans to invest DKK1bn (£96m) into the research, development and implementation of new sustainable materials. The group hopes that the development of a new material will result in its iconic building elements – 60 billion of which were produced last year – and packaging becoming more sustainable, it said in a statement yesterday.

Report shows Australians growing more comfortable with living beyond means
The inequality in the distribution of household savings is considerably worse than the much talked about inequality in incomes, a new report has found. Beyond our Means? Household Savings and Debt in Australia by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre examines the level and distribution of savings and debts across Australian households and the impact this will have on families now and in the future.

Coromandel great walk project gets $1m funding boost
NEW ZEALAND – The Coromandel great walks project has received a $1 million boost from a Lottery grant. The $4.77m plan aims to create a world class multi-day tramp from the east and west coasts and across the spine of the Coromandel. It is hoped it will drive economic development in the region. The $1m from the Government’s Lottery significant project fund will go towards the first route, which goes through Department of Conservation owned land, council reserve land and Stella Evered Reserve land.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Thread Raises $3.5M to Scale Transformation of Trash Into Dignified Jobs, Useful Products
Pittsburgh-based startup Thread announced today it has closed a Series A Round of $2.8M, led by Draper Triangle Ventures, to create upcycled fabric from plastic waste collected in developing countries. The financing, which completes a $3.5M funding cycle, will help expand production capabilities, while growing data and content collection throughout Thread’s unprecedentedly clean, transparent supply chain. The funding marks an important milestone for impact investing. Thread is among the first in a growing number of Certified B Corporations to receive Venture Capital funding.

Politics and Society

Thousands join mass climate change lobby outside UK parliament
Beekeepers, surfers, nuns and children were among thousands of people who lined up outside the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday to speak to their MP about climate change.  Some had woken up in the early hours to travel from as far as Polzeath in Cornwall and Aberdeen to take part in what organisers believe is the UK’s biggest ever lobby on climate change.

‘Climathon’ Seeks Climate Solutions From All Across the Globe
A group of 16 cities from around the world [including Perth and Wellington] will be participating in a 24-hour climate hackathon, which they are calling a Climathon. The event, which takes place on June 18, is being sponsored by Climate-KIC, the EU’s main climate innovation initiative, which is focusing all of its efforts on obtaining the best possible outcome at the COP21 meeting in Paris at the end of this year. Climate-KIC is a program of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

Business and climate: the hype and the reality
You wait decades for business leaders to address climate change, then 43 global CEOs call for concrete action all at once. The group of CEOs grew out of meetings at the World Economic Forum (WEF)…  And now some of the most unlikely candidates are queuing to be heard, including the poster children for the fossil fuel high life, such as Formula One and the aviation and fashion industries, the latter considered as a sectoral role model for wasteful, disposable consumerism. As the science of climate change hardens and with 14 of the hottest years on record happening in the last 15 years, is the corporate world experiencing the equivalent of a mass, death-bed conversion to sustainability? If so, how can we discern hype from reality?

The pressure is mounting on Abbott to deliver on climate
AUSTRALIA – International and domestic forces appear to be conspiring to significantly ratchet up the pressure on Prime Minster Tony Abbott’s climate policy. Growing concerns about a global decline in demand for coal and the spectre of stranded fossil fuel assets featured in this week’s ABC Four Corners program. This program, noting the growing influence of the divestment movement on Australian climate debate, painted Australia’s investment in fossil-fuel-driven exports as misguided, even financially irresponsible.

Chevron hits out at British documentary on oil pollution in Ecuador
The US oil giant Chevron has attacked the British makers of a short art-house documentary film about oil pollution in the Ecuadorean Amazon featuring the actor Julie Christie reading a Pablo Neruda poem for ignoring the environmental record of the country’s own state oil producer.    The 13-minute film, follows the unresolved, 22-year-long series of legal fights in the US, European and Latin American courts over the dumping by US oil company Texaco of 18bn gallons of toxic wastewater and crude oil in the forest near the town of Lago Agrio between 1964 and 1992.

Without a global deal, US curbs on airline emissions are hot air
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week issued a “proposed finding” that greenhouses gases from aviation pose a danger to the health and welfare of current and future generations. It could pave the way for regulations to limit domestic US aircraft emissions – but there are plenty of hurdles still to jump before that happens.

Built Environment

This Robot Can 3-D Print A Steel Bridge In Mid-Air
In 2017, Dutch designer Joris Laarman will wheel a robot to the brink of a canal in Amsterdam. He’ll hit an “on” button. He’ll walk away. And when he comes back two months later, the Netherlands will have a new, one-of-a-kind bridge, 3-D printed in a steel arc over the waters. This isn’t some proof-of-concept, either: when it’s done, it will be as strong and as any other bridge. People will be able to walk back and forth over it for decades.

Food Systems

Conflict Palm Oil Progress Report Calls Out Major Snack Food Brands for Lagging on Commitments
Today, Rainforest Action Network (RAN) released a new progress report, titled Testing Commitments to Cut Conflict Palm Oil, ranking the relative strength of palm oil commitments made since the launch of its Snack Food 20 campaign two years ago. The 2015 progress report shines a spotlight on the laggards in the Snack Food 20 and outlines the actions that these companies — as well as the frontrunners who are pushing ahead on their commitments — can and must take to rapidly cut Conflict Palm Oil from our food system.

Stop eating Nutella and save the forests, urges French ecology minister
France’s ecology minister, Ségolène Royal, has rankled the company that makes Nutella by urging the public to stop eating its chocolate hazelnut spread, saying it contributes to deforestation. “We have to replant a lot of trees because there is massive deforestation that also leads to global warming. We should stop eating Nutella, for example, because it’s made with palm oil,” Royal said in an interview late Monday on the French television network Canal+.

A lone tree stands in a logged area prepared for palm oil plantation in Malaysia’s Sarawak state. Ferrero, the makers of Nutella, source nearly 80% of its palm oil from Malaysia. Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

A lone tree stands in a logged area prepared for palm oil plantation in Malaysia’s Sarawak state. Ferrero, the makers of Nutella, source nearly 80% of its palm oil from Malaysia. Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

FDA Bans Trans Fats: What Does This Mean for Palm Oil Consumption in the US?
This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) moved to ban the use of partially hydrogenated oils, the main dietary source of artificial trans fats, after determining they are not safe to use in food. This move is hardly surprising, given that in November of 2013, the FDA made this preliminary determination. The announcement likely means an increased amount of palm oil, a trans fat-free vegetable oil, in the American diet — and an opportunity for companies to source only palm oil that is deforestation and peat-free.

New Zealand’s only tea producer builds new markets in China
When Zealong Tea opened a shop in Beijing this year it showed the power of the New Zealand brand. As New Zealand’s only commercial tea company, the tea has only been available for the past four years. Zealong marketing manager Sen Kong said the brand delivered on the NZ promise of purity from a pristine environment. “When people think of New Zealand they think of pure water, fertile soils, and the clean atmosphere” Mr Kong said.


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