Sustainable Development News

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

Modern slavery is destroying the environment – to meet demand for shrimps and pet food
It touches the food we eat and the air we breathe, the clothes we wear and possibly the device you’re using to read these words. But slavery today is a paradox. It is hidden away as never before, but its effects are everywhere. If slavery were a country it would have the population of Canada and the GDP of Kuwait, but its CO2 emissions would rank third globally after China and the US.

Energy and Climate Change

Southern hemisphere joins north in breaching carbon dioxide milestone
As we predicted two months ago, the background atmospheric carbon dioxide levels measured at Cape Grim on Tasmania’s northwest coast have officially passed the 400 parts per million (ppm) mark. Our measurements, compiled by our team at CSIRO together with the Bureau of Meteorology, show that the milestone was reached on May 10. In the past few days, the 400 ppm level has also been breached in Antarctica, where CSIRO’s measurements at Casey Station show the 400 ppm level was exceeded on May 14. Together, these measurements show that the atmospheric CO₂ concentration of the entire southern hemisphere is now at or above 400 ppm. It is unlikely to dip back below this level for many decades to come.

UNSW solar team achieves huge leap in solar cell efficiency
Australia’s leading solar research scientists have achieved another significant milestone, reporting a huge leap in solar cell efficiency that could in time lead to a quantum reduction in solar power costs. A University of NSW team led by the renowned Professor Martin Green and Dr Mark Keevers (pictured above) has reported a new world efficiency record for solar cells using unfocussed sunlight, the light grade used in rooftop solar modules on homes and businesses. The striking part of the new record is that it is so far ahead of previous achievements – 34.5 per cent instead of 24 per cent – and is edging closer to the theoretical limits of sunlight to electricity conversion – and more than three decades before recent predictions.

Less sunshine, wind and rain could cast shade on renewable energy
Fighting climate change will involve massive changes to the way we produce and distribute energy. Those changes are already happening. Several studies have looked at how our energy systems will change as clean energy increases and fossil fuels are replaced. But climate change must be planned into this transition. For instance, temperature is a key driver of demand for electricity, and future increases in heatwaves will probably drive higher electricity demand for air conditioners. So how could future climate changes affect the ability of the system to generate enough electricity?

39 Italian municipalities are now 100 per cent renewable
Thirty-nine Italian municipalities are now meeting 100 per cent of their energy demands with renewable energy, proving that it is fully possible in this type of climate for urban areas to completely decarbonise and provide cheap energy for citizens and businesses. The change over the last 10 years has been remarkable. Italy as a whole has brought its consumption of renewable energy up from 15 per cent to 35.5 per cent. This has been largely due to a distributed production model with the addition of over 850,000 generation plants all over the country.

Japan’s coal-fired plants ‘to cause thousands of early deaths’
Plans by Japan to build dozens of coal-fired power stations will cause at least 10,000 premature deaths, according to a study, as the country struggles to fulfil its climate change obligations five years after the Fukushima disaster closed down almost all of its nuclear plants.

Boffins in a spin over Direct Action efficacy
AUSTRALIA – With almost all of its budget spent, the Emissions Reduction Fund is likely to achieve only seven per cent of the CO2 emissions reductions needed for Australia to meet its current 2030 target, according to Climate Institute chief executive John Connor. The claim stands in contrast to a report by Energetics the government released this month showing it is possible to achieve the 2030 target within the current policy framework.

CSIRO buries its futures forecast in fossil fuel technologies
A new report from the CSIRO mapping Australia’s innovation and investment priorities out to 2030 has put its energy focus squarely on fossil fuel exports and the technologies required to best exploit them, under a number of different possible future scenarios. The report, published on Tuesday to mark the launch of the CSIRO’s new business advisory service, appears to put Australia’s premier science and research organisation in lock-step with the Coalition government, whose stated preference is to keep the national economy firmly tethered to coal and gas, despite the global trend – and scientific mandate – for rapid decarbonisation.

BP exploration plan for Great Australian Bight yet to gain regulator’s approval
BP’s latest environmental plan for its proposed oil search in the Great Australian Bight has failed to win regulatory approval but it will be able to submit a fresh proposal. The company wants to drill four exploration wells up to 2.5 kilometres deep off South Australia’s west coast but regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), has knocked back BP’s latest environmental plan.

Environment and Biodiversity

Farming is ‘single biggest cause’ of worst air pollution in Europe
Farming is the biggest single cause of the worst air pollution in Europe, a new study has found, as nitrogen compounds from fertilisers and animal waste drift over industrial regions. When the nitrogen compounds are mixed with air already polluted from industry, they combine to form solid particles that can stick in the fine lung tissue of children and adults, causing breathing difficulties, impaired lungs and heart function, and eventually even premature death.

EcoCheck: Victoria’s flower-strewn western plains could be swamped by development
AUSTRALIA – When Europeans first saw Victoria’s native grasslands in the 1830s, they were struck by the vast beauty of the landscape, as well as its productive potential… The native temperate grasslands of southeastern Australia are a group of ecosystems defined mainly by the presence of dominant native grasses. Trees are either completely absent, or occur in very low numbers.

Economy and Business

France sets carbon price floor
France will set a carbon price floor of about €30 ($33.95) a tonne in its 2017 finance bill as the government seeks to kickstart broader European action to cut emissions and drive forward last year’s landmark international climate accord. The French government said last month that it would unilaterally set a carbon price floor in the absence of a broader European initiative to strengthen carbon pricing, hoping the move will spur other countries to act.

Ford Adds Carbon Capture To EV Experience
Just the other day, CleanTechnica hosted a lively conversation about tribalism and EV ownership, and here comes The Ford Motor Company to add a little zest to the pot. Ford has been integrating sustainable materials to the EV experience, and the company has just announced that carbon capture will be the latest addition to its roster, via foam and plastic parts sourced from reclaimed carbon dioxide. Ford is nowhere near competing with Tesla in terms of free publicity and tribal identification — nor is any other automaker — but the focus on sustainable materials provides Ford with a marketing hook that expands the planet-saving aspect of the EV experience.
See also: Ford Turning Captured CO2 Into Car Parts, Expanding Healthcare Outreach in Africa

Stretchy batteries and solar cells take wearable technology to next level
Scientists have developed thin, soft stretchy batteries and solar cells that can be applied to the skin like a band-aid. The flexible power system overcomes barriers experienced by current wearable technologies, according to a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

CEFC-Westpac scheme to help business adopt solar, battery storage, EVs
A new loan facility that will help Australian businesses invest in solar, battery storage, energy efficient technologies and electric vehicles has been launched by Westpac Bank in conjunction with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

King St: helping sustainable companies to shine
NEW ZEALAND – Convincing companies to run their business sustainably takes great communication, concrete evidence and an inspiring attitude. King St is an advertising and marketing agency that works in this area with horticultural company Trevelyan’s.  Trevelyan’s is a Bay of Plenty kiwifruit and avocado post-harvest operator and is fully committed to sustainable business practices.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Study finds 400m meals’ worth of edible food wasted each year
More than 400m meals’ worth of edible food waste in the UK grocery supply chain could be redistributed to feed hungry people each year, according to a government-funded report. Just 18% of the 270,000 tonnes of potentially edible food waste produced last year was redistributed to businesses or charities for use in food banks, according to analysis by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap).

The underpant-sporting superheroes of food
NRE ZEALAND – Kaibosh was founded by Robyn and George Langlands in 2008. They collected excess products from Wishbone food stores and delivered it to Wellington Women’s Refuge. Kaibosh brought in external consultants for a strategic review in 2012 to set it up for scale and longevity. It now has paid staff, its own premises and trucks. But the service is still not-for-profit and free for food donors and the recipients.   The organisation, along with other similar food sharing arrangements, got a legal boost in the Food Act 2014. Section 352 provided immunity from liability for food donors, as long as food is safe when donated and the recipient is given the information they need to keep it that way.
This month they are asking supporters to Make a Meal in May and donate the proceeds. Matt says: “The idea is that you make a meal at home, donate what you would have spent on a meal out.”

Politics and Society

It’s time for the environment roundup with Ian the Climate Denialist Potato
AUSTRALIA – Today we are looking at some of the environmental issues facing the nation and how lucky we are to have Greg Hunt as our environment minister by First Dog on the Moon.

Saving Great Barrier Reef from climate change should be central election issue, says Tim Flannery
AUSTRALIA – Tim Flannery says preserving the Great Barrier Reef from coral bleaching linked to climate change should be a central issue in the federal election campaign. Flannery, a scientist and member of the Climate Council, said the lack of attention paid to climate change so far in the eight-week campaign was “staggering”.

Smart cities need smart governance: discuss!
AUSTRALIA – It’s clearly good to be a “smart city”, largely because the alternative seems a tad unappealing. Viz: who actually wants to be a Dumb City? However, despite the obvious attractions of being smart, and despite signs of progress, Australian cities are mostly slow learners when it comes to being data-driven, responsive and tech-enabled. In this sense Greater Sydney is not a smart city and on current trends will not deserve that description any day soon. This is partly because smart cities require one thing we haven’t got. And that’s something quite un-techie and indeed rather traditional: smart governance.

Obama’s climate plan delayed by legal challenge
The centrepiece of President Barack Obama’s climate policy has been delayed again after a ruling in the US appeals court. The Clean Power Plan is designed to curb carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired plants but it has faced opposition from a range of states and businesses. The ruling means that a decision on the plan will not come until after the presidential election in November.

Built Environment

How are cities around the world tackling air pollution?
More cycling, better public transport and car bans – cities from Delhi to Zurich are using a range of initiatives to lower traffic pollution and improve health.

Food Systems

Chile’s Record Toxic Tides May Have Roots in Dirty Fish Farming
Images of death have been arriving from southern Chile for weeks, each one seemingly more apocalyptic than the last. First there were thousands of dead salmon in aquaculture cages. Then there were rafts of dead sardines floating along the coast. Next, beached clams covered miles of shoreline. Then there were die-offs of jellyfish, birds, and even mammals. So much death has sown panic among the public. Worried that their livelihoods are at risk, fishermen have taken to the streets, blocking roads and sowing unrest.

Kashi Launches Scheme to Help Reward, Incentivize Transition to Organic Farmland
According to the USDA, consumer demand for organic foods has grown by double-digits every year since the 1990s — but organic acreage has not kept up. Today, only about one percent of US farmland is organic and farmers looking to transition to organic face real barriers, including shouldering financial uncertainty during the three year transition period required to be eligible for USDA Organic certification. Today, Kashi® announced a first-of-its-kind, collaborative effort to increase organic farmland by recognizing “organics in training” and supporting farmers transitioning fields from conventional to organic practices.
See also: Kashi, Clif Bar and growing the organic food supply chain

Can we be Australian without eating indigenous food?
By Australian food we mean the plants, fruits and animals that have grown here and sustained the indigenous people of the land for over 50,000 years. If we eat only the food brought by the first settlers and all those who followed, can we call ourselves Australian? The British who colonised – or invaded – Australia arrived with an intact culture, which included their cusine. They brought with them the fruit, vegetables and livestock from their home. From the outset, they imposed that food and food culture on their new land and, to their detriment, its original inhabitants. They ignored the intricate environmental management of indigenous peoples, a management that heavily informed their world view

Govt doubts catch under-reporting study
NEW ZEALAND – The government and seafood industry are sceptical of a new report which claims there’s been gross under-reporting of the country’s commercial fish take for decades. The study, by the Fisheries Centre at British Columbia University together with and Oxford and Auckland universities, states New Zealand’s true catch is nearly three times as high as is reported officially.


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