Sustainable Development News

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

Finance for deep-rooted prosperity is coming
“Macrocritical resilience” may be the most mystifying two-word phrase you need to know. Though you may never have heard these two words before, what they describe affects everything you live and strive for. Wonky as it sounds, it is a common sense idea: what generates value is more valuable than what we count in dollars. And yet, it is only in the last few years that we are truly beginning to understand that macrocritical indicators—elements of human experience that shape the health and viability of the overall economy—really do describe how and where value and capability come into being.

Energy and Climate Change

MIT nuclear fusion record marks latest step towards unlimited clean energy
A nuclear fusion world record has been set in the US, marking another step on the long road towards the unlocking of limitless clean energy.  A team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created the highest plasma pressure ever recorded, using its Alcator C-Mod tokamak reactor. High pressures and extreme temperatures are vital in forcing atoms together to release huge amounts of energy.  Nuclear fusion powers the sun and has long been touted as the ultimate solution to powering the world while halting climate change. But, as fusion sceptics often say, the reality has stubbornly remained a decade or two away for many years.

Queensland’s renewable target isn’t ‘aggressive’, it’s entirely achievable
In the wake of South Australia’s state-wide blackout, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull urged states to avoid “extremely aggressive and extremely unrealistic” renewable energy targets.  In the midst of this discussion, the Queensland government released a draft report from an expert panel on its renewables target of 50% by 2030. Currently around 7% of the state’s electricity comes from renewable sources… the report provides a welcome discussion about how states can achieve their targets, without the politics and ideology. The panel consulted widely, and commissioned detailed modelling on potential credible pathways for Queensland to meet its target, as well as the economic consequences of those pathways.

Oslo to reduce emissions by 50% in four years
Norwegian capital Oslo has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent compared to 1990 in four years – which would be the fastest change a city has ever had… Norway’s capital emissions targets are in line with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C.

Liebreich State of the Industry Keynote BNEF EMEA Summit 2016 (Video 37:15)
BNEF Chairman of the Advisory Board, Michael Liebreich gives his ‘state of the clean energy industry’ keynote at BNEF’s Future of Energy EMEA Summit in London, October 2016. View the slides of the presentation here.

JinkoSolar tackles solar shading with “optimiser” PV module
Chinese PV maker JinkoSolar has delivered its answer to the problem of rooftop solar shading with the Australian launch of its JinkoMX module series, which use “DC optimiser” technology from US company Maxim Integrated Products.

Environment and Biodiversity

How dung beetles are duped into rolling and burying seeds
Dung beetles find their food – which is dung – by its pungent smell. Once found, dung beetles then roll and bury dung balls or dung pellets to later eat or to lay eggs in. But in the De Hoop Nature Reserve of the southern Cape plants called Ceratocaryum argenteum have managed to dupe dung beetles into rolling and burying their seeds. These seeds look and smell like dung pellets, so this is a classic case of plants deceiving animals.

Coral bleaching off north WA devastating, marine scientists say
Marine scientists surveying coral reefs off WA’s northern coast are concerned some may not recover from a recent coral bleaching event. Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) say Scott Reef, off the Kimberley coast, has been extensively damaged.

Call for more climate focus in reef plan
The authority charged with looking after the Great Barrier Reef admits climate change should have featured more heavily in the government’s protection plan for coming decades. Climate change is believed to be one of the biggest threats to the world’s largest coral ecosystem but scientists have criticised the Reef 2050 Plan for largely ignoring the issue. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chief Russell Reichelt admitted the impacts of climate change could have been clearer in the plan.

Surging plantation timber industry used to build case for logging Tasmanian reserves
AUSTRALIA – The State Government appears to be building a case for opening up protected logging reserves, pointing to new figures showing an increase in private forest harvests.  Forestry Tasmania has suggested lifting a moratorium on logging for 400,000 hectares reserved until 2020 so the ailing business can meet contractual obligations.

Kapiti author Catherine Knight produces book on history of New Zealand rivers
A Kapiti author is hoping her second book helps educate people about New Zealand’s fresh water.  Catherine Knight released New Zealand’s Rivers: An Environmental History this week.  The book includes information on how many New Zealand rivers have become too polluted to swim in. It also includes sections on how Maori and European settlers used the rivers, environmental protection, hydroelectricity, the introduction of trout and salmon and more.

Quiz: New Zealand native birds
Test your knowledge of our native birds as Forest & Bird’s Bird of the Year competition kicks off. Vote for your favourite bird and follow the competition at

New trust in the fight for a predator-free Hamilton
NEW ZEALAND – Rats and possums are being stalked in Hamilton as the appetite for a predator-free country gathers pace. A new charitable trust, Predator-Free Hamilton, has been set up by scientists and residents to help private landowners control pest numbers in order to turn the city into a haven for native species. And while it’s not an impossible task, trust chairman Kemble Pudney​ said it’s also no walk in the park.

Economy and Business

What’s missing from action on sustainable development
Twelve months in, and there’s been some good progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from governments, NGOs and businesses alike: looking at what’s material, making commitments, testing what’s possible and confirming shared roles in delivering these ambitions.  But there’s a missing piece in all this activity, and it’s the glue that holds it all together: systems thinking.

Moving Forward: Natural Capital, Leadership and the Enabling Environment
“The farmers could really use the rain.” I heard adults mention this throughout my childhood summers in America’s rural Midwest. While largely unappreciated at the time, what I perceived to be a common-sense comment was loaded in ways I did not yet understand. For when it comes to agricultural yields, farmers — and indeed all of us —  ‘need the rain’. Human welfare is profoundly connected with the welfare of the natural world. The transition away from small farms to a service economy may have lessened our awareness of this dependence, but our agricultural and economic systems remain reliant on our ability to access natural resources and on stable earth systems, otherwise known as ‘natural capital’.

Executive’s short-term outlooks the real killer of Australian innovation
Malcolm Turnbull’s Innovation Agenda focused attention on startups and technology-driven innovation, but this is not enough to overcome the broader problems inhibiting innovation in Australia. Businesses may be looking to the government to ease red tape as a means to increase innovation but what’s really blocking innovation is the short-term view of senior executives, our research finds.

Samarco dam collapse: one year on from Brazil’s worst environmental disaster
Nearly one year on from the worst environmental disaster in Brazilian history, the Gualaxo do Norte river in the south-eastern state of Minas Gerais still runs iron-ore red.

Carbon market reform backed by EU Parliament
Yesterday, the industry committee of the European Parliament voted 45 to 13 in favour of a compromise for reforming the EU’s carbon market. The aim of the reform is to reduce the amount of carbon permits overall, within the context of the Paris Agreement. The surplus of carbon credits that followed the economic crisis has lowered the prices, which goes against the principle of the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) – a policy put in place to make European power companies and big polluters pay for their emissions.

Federal resources minister hoorays Adani coal (and solar) jobs
Australia’s minister for resources, Matt Canavan, kicked off his Monday morning socials by Tweeting a photo of seven different jobs being advertised in the newspaper by coal giant Adani. In a show of support for the coal industry, for Adani and for the massive Carmichael coal mine and port project the Indian company is developing in Queensland’s Galilee Basin, Canavan captioned his photo of the job ads with “QLD needs this project and these jobs.”

Waste and the Circular Economy

Raw intelligence: how big data flows work, and why they matter (Part 1)
This three-part series starts from a basic insight: through advances in digital manufacturing, raw materials are fast becoming intelligent assets. Thought of another way, material flows are becoming information flows. In this series we explore the implications for the circular economy. In part one we investigated the technological advances that are encoding intelligence into materials. Here we look at the trends in storing, communicating, and using materials data. Part three will turn to the impact on material supply chains and business ecosystems that result, and discuss the business models that stand to benefit from emerging trends.

Steel from old tyres and ceramics from nutshells – how industry can use our rubbish
If someone said “green manufacturing” to you, what comes to mind is probably environmentally friendly products – solar panels, bamboo garments and the like. But there’s much more in this space. In fact, far greater environmental and economic impact can be achieved by looking further up the manufacturing chain.  There is huge potential in rethinking the energy and raw materials that go into our favourite and essential goods.  What I am talking about here is waste. What if we could turn rubbish into an input? Instead of viewing waste as a growing global burden, we could “mine” the world’s landfills – by using old tyres to make steel, for instance.

Greens propose 15c levy on plastic bags in move to cut pollution
NEW ZEALAND – Do you take your own bags to the supermarket check-in? And would you take a different approach if you had to pay – even a small amount – for each of those plastic bags, with just a few items in each, that the shop gives you? The Greens believe a charge would trigger a huge reduction in the number of one-use plastic bags New Zealanders go through, estimated at 1.6 billion a year.

Politics and Society

Jeffrey Sachs on meeting the Sustainable Development Goals – ‘we need a victory of ideas’
Jeffrey Sachs is one of the world’s leading experts on economic development, global macroeconomics and the fight against poverty. He holds the position of Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Sustainable Development Goals, and previously advised both Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan on the MDGs.  The path to success in reaching the SDGs promises to be challenging. We invited five scholars from around the world to put their questions to Sachs on how we might get there.

Climate change could drive 122m more people into extreme poverty by 2030
Up to 122 million more people worldwide could be living in extreme poverty by 2030 as a result of climate change and its impacts on small-scale farmers’ incomes, a major UN report warned on Monday. Climate change is “a major and growing threat to global food security”, said the report, warning that it could increase the global population living in extreme poverty by between 35 and 122 million by 2030, with farming communities in sub-Saharan Africa among the hardest hit.

Expert opinion: How technology can catalyze sustainable development
Considering emerging technologies to be only beneficial for facilitating high-tech business processes and improving lifestyles for those in developed countries is a common misconception that could limit the potential benefits of these innovations for developing economies. A new paper by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) on the Internet of everything brings to light how new technology can be leveraged by developing countries to address fundamental sustainable development issues and needs.

Light rail and renewable energy return Labor to government in ACT
AUSTRALIA – Canberra looks set to continue progress on the Capital Metro Light Rail and the ACT Government’s 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020 target, with the Labor party establishing a slim but workable majority following the ACT election on Saturday.

Built Environment

Science, cities and innovation in the human age
Over the next week, leaders from around the world will take part in a historic summit on the future of cities. But this landmark event highlights how the pace of science may be unable to keep up with today’s rapidly-changing world.

Cities are ‘crucial’ to meeting sustainable development goals
The anticipated growth in urban populations over the next few decades will inevitably pose huge challenges to infrastructure – from health services and schools to public transport and energy. So how can cities meet the needs of an expanding citizenry while at the same time being inclusive and sustainable?

12 circular economy case studies from the built environment sector
For all the discussion about the city of the future, it’s hard to imagine how the houses, offices and infrastructure of tomorrow will actually look. To get a better understanding of how the construction industry is supporting the transition to a circular economy, members of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s CE100 network have developed and released a new report detailing leading examples of circular economy innovation in the built environment.

Food Systems

Supermarkets vow to cut salt, sugar and fat in house brands
About 85,000 children in New Zealand between two and 14 are classed as obese, according to official figures. Retail giants including Countdown, New World, Moore Wilson’s and Pak’nSave have now signed a pledge to help. The pledge falls under the government’s obesity action plan, which also targets New Zealand’s health, education and transport sectors.


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