Sustainable Development News

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

Food waste cafes and urban orchards: five ways people are building a new economy
A new economy is coming into play. No longer wielded as a weapon to legitimise austerity, this is an economy where the community and the environment, not the corporate shareholder, benefits. Beneath its ruthless, business-as-usual veneer, Britain hosts a colourful array of grassroots enterprises. Some of these are sparked into action by artists or dynamic working groups, many are crowdfunded, and all of them foster more friendly relations between people.

Energy and Climate Change

US science agency says 2015 is 97% likely to be the hottest year on record
The world has experienced record-breaking warmth every month so far in 2015, making this year virtually guaranteed to be the hottest on record, according to a US science agency. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) said that 2015 was 97% likely to be the hottest year so far, eclipsing 2014, the current warmest year. Last month was the warmest ever August globally since records began in 1880, at 1.58F above the 20th century average. Every month this year has been the hottest on record, with the period of January to August 1.51F above the long-term average.

Which Cities In the World Are Closest to Nixing Fossil Fuels?
This week, as global climate talks near, Beijing and 10 other Chinese cities announced they will peak their heat-trapping emissions (about equal to those of Brazil) before China’s national target of 2030. More than a dozen U.S. cities including New York joined in pledging emission cuts. Also this week, officials in Aspen, Colorado said their city became the third in the United States— after Burlington, Vermont, and Greensburg, Kansas—to run entirely on renewable energy. They’re boosting wind power, which emits zero carbon dioxide, and eliminating coal, which produces more CO2 than oil or gas when burned. How well, though, are other cities doing in quitting fossil fuels? A glimpse emerges from a survey, released Thursday, of the current power mix of 162 cities worldwide. Many have pledged to cut carbon emissions, but some are further along than others.

How climate change efforts by developed countries are hurting Africa’s rural poor
In recent years there has been significant movement toward land acquisition in developing countries to establish forestry plantations for offsetting carbon pollution elsewhere in the world. This is often referred to as land grabbing. These carbon trading initiatives work on the basis that forestry plantations absorb carbon dioxide and other polluting greenhouse gases. This helps to undo the environmental damage associated with modern western lifestyles… But are carbon markets – and the feel good stories that have sprung up around them – all just a bit too good to be true?

Tesla targets Australia as 1st market for Powerwall, deliveries in 2015
Australia has been named as one of the first markets – along with North America – that will receive deliveries of Tesla’s much anticipated Powerwall residential battery storage system. Tesla said on Thursday that it would be launching its 7kWh home energy storage units in Australia in late 2015, alongside North America and the DACH market in Europe, through a “growing list” of Tesla Energy partners. This is ahead of previous predictions of 2016.

Utility-scale battery market to hit $8.3bn by 2024
The market for utility-scale battery storage is expected to increase 18-fold by 2024, according to analysis released today by market research firm Frost & Sullivan.  Revenue from grid-connected utility-scale batteries totalled $0.46bn in 2014, but is expected to rise to $8.30bn in 2024, driven by “impressive technological breakthroughs and growth in manufacturing capabilities”. For example, Tesla’s forthcoming Gigafactory in Nevada, which will be producing 35GWh worth of batteries by 2020 – more capacity than was produced globally in 2013.

Shell boss: Solar will be ‘backbone’ of global energy system
Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden has provided a ringing endorsement of the global solar industry, predicting that it will prove the “dominant backbone” of the energy system in the coming years. Speaking in an interview on BBC Radio 4, Van Beurden reiterated his view that global energy demand will double over the coming decades and as such, demand for fossil fuels will continue to expand for several more decades. However, he said he had “no hesitation to predict that in years to come solar will be the dominant backbone of our energy system, certainly of the electricity system”.

Environment and Biodiversity

Land and Forest Fires in Indonesia Reach Crisis Levels
Fire alerts in Indonesia have spiked dramatically in recent days, surging even higher than the crisis-level outbreaks of June 2013, March 2014 and November 2014. Satellite feeds shown on Global Forest Watch Fires have recorded thousands of high-confidence fire alerts over the past two weeks, peaking at 1,189 on September 8th, exceeding the highest peaks of the last two years.

Southeast Asia’s haze: Indonesia arrests seven suspects
Indonesian police have detained seven people whose companies are allegedly connected with illegal agricultural fires that have cloaked Southeast Asia in haze, in rare arrests over the annual smog outbreaks. They were arrested on Wednesday on Indonesia’s Sumatra island, where authorities have been battling smog-belching blazes which were started to clear land for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations, national police chief Badrodin Haiti said.

Southeast Asia’s haze: Find out what is behind the choking smoke covering Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore
Here are some answers about what causes the outbreaks and why they keep happening… The main cause is illegal fires started in peatland and forest on Indonesia’s Sumatra island and the Indonesian part of Borneo to quickly and cheaply clear land for palm oil and pulp and paper plantations. They increased in number as the plantations expanded, in particular due to rising global demand for palm oil, a key ingredient in everyday goods such as shampoo and biscuits.

Seal surfs on the back of a whale on the NSW south coast
When a pod of whales tucked into a feeding frenzy off Australia there was plenty on the menu, even enough for a surprise guest – a whale-surfing seal. The odd pairing was captured by photographer Robyn Malcolm on a recent whale watching trip near Eden, in New South Wales, Australia.

This seal hitched a ride on the back of a humpback whale.

This seal hitched a ride on the back of a humpback whale.

Economy and Business

Banks pledge to ramp up green investments
More than 70 financial institutions from across the globe have pledged to scale-up energy efficiency investments in an attempt to tackle climate change and take advantage of a “huge business opportunity”.  The commitment was made at an industry conference Turkey, organised by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI). Participating institutions – from regional lenders to global banks – have endorsed a declaration promising to further engage in financing energy efficiency.

DJSI: When survey fatigue actually pays off?
Sept. 10 was the closest the sustainability world comes to an Oscars ceremony. Jostling for a position in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI) has become an annual obsession for corporate responsibility and sustainability professionals, which came to a head when the new indices were released last week. Competition is especially fierce when it comes to the list of industry group leaders, occupied this year by the likes of Unilever, Volkswagen and Abbott. This summer, Corporate Citizenship decided to dig deeper into the world of sustainability rankings. In our biggest practitioner survey to date, hundreds of respondents from organizations across the globe shared their views on the most credible and valuable rankings. The extent to which DJSI topped the survey was impressive, if not surprising. When asked, unprompted, to name the world’s leading sustainability ranking initiative, over two-thirds of practitioners picked DJSI.

Free trade agreements fail to boost Australian agriculture and food manufacturing
Many claims are made that Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with select trading partners will benefit Australian agriculture. OECD statistics say otherwise. The balance of trade positions of Australian agriculture and food manufacturing have deteriorated since FTAs with New Zealand, the United States and Thailand have come into play. The long-standing 1983 New Zealand arrangement shows growing imports of processed food products, especially since 2000. Australian food exports to New Zealand have levelled off since 2011 with a US$600 million Australian deficit on food products in 2014. Agricultural goods have been close to balance with just over US$270 million of raw or minimally processed product flowing each way. The net result has been a persistent and generally worsening deficit for Australia in its agriculture and food trade with New Zealand for the whole period.

Norway to complete $US1b payment to Brazil for protecting Amazon
Norway will make a final $US100 million ($140 million) payment to Brazil this year to complete a $US1 billion project that rewards a slowdown in forest loss in the Amazon basin. Brazil had more than achieved a goal of reducing the rate of deforestation by 75 per cent, the condition for the payments under an agreement for 2008-15 meant to protect the forest and slow climate change, Norway’s Environment Ministry said on Tuesday.

Coastal hazard zones generating insurance problems
Residents in Christchurch’s new coastal hazards zones are already struggling with insurance issues, adding to fears that premiums will rise and properties will be harder to sell.  A report by environmental engineers Tonkin & Taylor, has identified 5971 homes in Christchurch and Banks Peninsula at risk of erosion and almost 18,000 properties that could be susceptible to coastal flooding. Those properties now have their vulnerability identified on LIM reports. The report, commissioned by the council to help guide planning rules in the Christchurch Replacement District Plan, estimated the likely effect of a 40-centimetre sea level rise on the Canterbury coastline over the next 50 years and a 1-metre rise over the next 100 years.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Plastic takes toll on turtles
They are the slow ocean roamers, the harmless friends of a nervous snorkeler, and the growing victims of plastic pollution. An international study estimates more than half of the world’s marine turtles carry a burden of plastic debris; a finding underscored by the contents of one Australian turtle’s stomach. Laid out on a laboratory bench are plastic bag and balloon fragments, string, packing strap and sharp chips. All contributed to the death of this green turtle off Queensland’s Moreton Bay.  “It’s horrific,” Qamar Schuyler, of the University of Queensland, said on Wednesday. “You start pulling pieces out and it just goes on and on.” Plastic ingestion can kill turtles by blocking the gut or piercing the gut wall and can cause other problems through the release of toxic chemicals into the animals’ tissues.

Fatal plastic: The contents of an Australian green turtle's stomach. Photo: Qamar Schuyler

Fatal plastic: The contents of an Australian green turtle’s stomach. Photo: Qamar Schuyler

Brilliant Behavior Change Campaign Helping Put a Dent in London Litter
In May, the Westminster City Council teamed up with Veolia and Hubbub — the non-profit behind the “manifesto,” which uses different hubs of activity to interest mainstream consumers in sustainability issues — to launch the “Neat Streets” campaign, aimed at tackling the litter problem on one of London’s busiest streets. The campaign specifically targeted cigarette butts and chewing gum — the two items responsible for 78 percent of all observed litter — through a series of interactive installations and exhibitions over the summer on Villiers Street (near Charing Cross railway station), including giant cigarettes, talking trash bins and gumdrop-recycling bins. Keep Britain Tidy has found that the pilot schemes helped chewing gum litter fall by 54 percent in June and 26 percent in July. The research also suggests that littering has fallen by 26 percent overall since the campaign began.

Politics and Society

Power to the people: Big businesses back calls for feed-in-tariff rethink
UK – Ikea, Panasonic and DuPont have thrown their weight behind calls for the UK Government to reconsider the “extreme” and “damaging” proposals to cut the Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) scheme.  It is the second time in two days that a joint statement has been sent to the Government requesting that the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) reconsider the recently announced plans to cut the feed-in tariff (FiT) scheme by up to 87%.

Boris Johnson speaks out against government plans to cut solar subsidies
UK – Boris Johnson has said he is “very concerned” about the government’s proposals to cut subsidies to the fast-growing solar industry. The mayor of London reminded ministers that 10,000 local jobs were dependent on this renewable power technology which had, in his view, “many, many attractions”. The warning from the high-profile Conservative was welcomed by “green” politicians and industry leaders and came as the chief executive of Shell predicted solar would become the “backbone” of our energy system.

The UK’s energy policy has descended into dangerous farce (Opinion)
The UK Conservative government is pursuing a dangerous path on energy, which could lead to lights going out next year. The government is preoccupied with what it calls an “overallocation of renewable energy subsidies”. Lest you think this signifies a surplus of renewable energy in the UK, it simply means that the amount of money permitted to be spent on building renewable energy capacity by the Treasury, known as the Levy Control Framework, has been exceeded. This ideological policy is not based on any scientific or independent economic evidence but on a willingness to please a certain sector of Tory supporters.

Family turn to UN after court rejects refugee bid
NEW ZEALAND – A Kiribati family who claimed to be the world’s first refugees from climate change will have to leave their rented house in West Auckland after the father was detained this week. Ioane Teitiota, his wife Angua Erika and their three New Zealand-born children all face deportation within a week after their four-year court battle for refugee status was rejected by the Supreme Court in July. But their lawyer, Dr Michael Kidd, has complained to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which has the power to issue an interim measure barring the deportation.

Australia is among the most liveable nations, but it lags other countries on sustainability
Australia may be one of the most liveable places in the world, but a new report ranks us in the middle when it comes to sustainability. Of the 34 OECD countries, Australia ranked 18th. The report compared OECD countries’ performance against the new Sustainable Development Goals, to be formalised in New York at the end of this month. The top five countries were Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Switzerland. The bottom five were Mexico, Turkey, Hungary, Chile and Greece. The United States came in 29th, New Zealand 16th, the United Kingdom 15th, and Canada 11th. So how did Australia get such a mediocre result?

Built Environment

Microsoft, GE Among Big Brands Backing New White House ‘Smart Cities’ Initiative
Microsoft, GE and Bank of America are among the ten companies supporting a White House challenge to U.S. cities to become smarter by accelerating deployment of innovative technologies that tackle energy, water, waste and air challenges. Organized by the nonprofit, Envision America, the new effort will invite leaders from 10 winning communities to participate in a workshop in January in Charlotte, NC, where they will work with leading experts from industry and academia to diagnose needs, workshop solutions and develop new smart initiatives for their community.

Prefab sector on an unstoppable path to modernising construction industry
The prefab sector is gaining strong momentum in its push to modernise Australia’s construction industry, according to new director of PrefabAUS and Wood and Grieve Engineers principal John Lucchetti. The prefab construction industry was extremely progressive, he said, particularly in Victoria where manufacturers are looking to redeploy workers from the ailing automotive sector.

Top End looks to end dominance of energy-intensive “esky” houses
AUSTRALIA – The Northern Territory government has initiated a review of the construction code for houses due to concerns it is not delivering the “tropical friendly” homes the Top End requires.  It has formed a Domestic Building Code Review Group including architects, engineers and construction experts to find ways to encourage more climate-appropriate design, NT lands and planning minister David Tollner said. The group will also suggest possible territory-wide changes to the NCC.

Food Systems

New programme brings credibility to NZ marine farmers
A new programme designed to bring transparency and integrity to the aquaculture industry in New Zealand has been launched. The programme, called A+, was announced at an annual Aquaculture conference in Nelson by Mt Cook Alpine Salmon chief operating officer Janine Tulloch on Wednesday. A+ acts as a performance measurer where marine farmers monitor their farm’s performances and log it into an online portal. The information is collated and reported, giving a clearer picture to both domestic and international markets of the sustainable practices used to produce seafood in New Zealand. The programme measures a wide range of aspects on the marine farms, including water quality, iwi involvement and community interactions.

Recall push after nanoparticles found in foods
An environment group is calling for some foods to be recalled after testing it commissioned found evidence of nanoparticles.  Friends of the Earth says Australia’s food safety agency has risked people’s health by ignoring the issue for too long.  The food standards body says the results and the campaign against nanoparticles are misleading and sometimes wrong. A few months ago, Friends of the Earth selected 14 foods and drinks, including a popular chocolate product, a taco mix and a white sauce. Each were sent to the Arizona State University, and test results showed each contains silica and titanium dioxide nanoparticles.


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