Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Land-clearing bill set to fail in Queensland after Billy Gordon announces he will not support plan
The Queensland Government’s bid to tighten land-clearing laws looks set to fail, with independent MP Billy Gordon announcing he will vote them down. Katter’s Australian Party MPs are also opposed to the legislation, which meant the Government needed support from all three remaining crossbench MPs to have the legislation passed in State Parliament. A few hours out from the crucial vote on the floor of the House, the Member for Cook released a statement saying he would not support the bill.

Donations to restore Great Barrier Reef could dry up if land clearing continues, says donor
Private investment in work to restore the Great Barrier Reef is likely dry up if the Queensland government fails to pass tighter land-clearing laws, warns Australia’s biggest environmental philanthropist. David Thomas, who has donated $30m and bequeathed another $30m to environmental causes in Australia, told Guardian Australia that state and federal governments’ drive for private investment in Great Barrier Reef water quality projects would be unsuccessful if rampant land clearing continues.

Energy and Climate Change

Time to listen to the ice scientists about the Arctic death spiral
In a new book, published just as July 2016 is confirmed by Nasa as the hottest month ever recorded, this most experienced and rational scientist states what so many other researchers privately fear but cannot publicly say – that the Arctic is approaching a death spiral which may see the entire remaining summer ice cover collapse in the near future.

Origin says energy future lies “beyond” the grid
Australia’s biggest electricity retailer Origin Energy says it expects Australia to “lead the world” in the transition to a low-carbon energy system, but expects to see much of its business growth “beyond the grid” and in solar, storage and energy services to households and businesses.

Boost for WA solar uptake as government cuts red tape
Western Australian energy minister Mike Nahan said the state LNP government had introduced changes at the level of the Public Utilities Office that would make it easier for solar power purchase agreement (PPA) providers to operated in the state… Solar PPAs involve a PV company installing a system on a customer’s roof at no up-front cost, under an deal that sees the customer buy all the electricity generated by the system for a set period at an agreed price.

United Energy taps solar, storage, software to defer network upgrade
AUSTRALIA – Melbourne-based start-up GreenSync has revealed it will be working with Victorian utility United Energy to deliver a landmark, community-based demand response and energy storage project on the Mornington Peninsula that will defer the need for costly network upgrades in the popular tourist area.

Alaskan village threatened by rising sea levels votes for costly relocation
The residents of a small coastal Alaskan village have voted to move to the mainland because of rising sea levels, but they may not have the funds to do it.  The 600-person village of Shishmaref, located on an island just north of the Bering Strait, has for decades been ravaged by erosion tied to climate change, leading residents to seek a more sustainable place to live.  But the community is racked by poverty, making it difficult to relocate, which is estimated to cost $180m.

An abandoned house in Shishmaref, Alaska sits on the beach after sliding off during a storm in 2005. Photograph: Diana Haecker/AP

An abandoned house in Shishmaref, Alaska sits on the beach after sliding off during a storm in 2005. Photograph: Diana Haecker/AP

Environment and Biodiversity

Here’s where tropical forests have been destroyed for palm oil over the past 25 years
A new study led by researchers at Duke University that was published last month in the journal PLOS ONE looked at high-resolution imagery from 20 countries to determine where oil palm plantations have destroyed tropical forests over the past quarter century and where oil palm might threaten rainforests in the future. The researchers found that existing plantations drove high levels of deforestation between 1989 and 2013, with Southeast Asia accounting for 45 percent of forest destruction for oil palm expansion and South America accounting for just over 30 percent.

Video: Zebra finch call prepares their eggs for climate change
Scientists have long worried whether animals can respond to the planet’s changing climate. Now, a new study reports that at least one species of songbird—and likely many more—already knows how to prep its chicks for a warming world. They do so by emitting special calls to the embryos inside their eggs, which can hear and learn external sounds. This is the first time scientists have found animals using sound to affect the growth, development, behavior, and reproductive success of their offspring, and adds to a growing body of research revealing that birds can “doctor” their eggs.

Kings Park spinifex grass may hold key to mine site revegetation
AUSTRALIA – Ground-breaking research into a humble native grass… may hold the key to the successful rehabilitation of mine sites in Australia. It is a little known fact that Perth’s Kings Park is a centre for world-leading research and discoveries.  For many, Kings Park is about war memorials, playgrounds and discovering Pokemon. But the park is also the base for Dr Matt Barrett, who has found something real: 50 new species of spinifex grass.

Arborists to carve hollows for endangered swift parrots after trees used for firewood
AUSTRALIA – A group of arborists from Victoria has volunteered to travel to Tasmania to carve out tree hollows for the critically endangered swift parrot. Five trees containing hollows the birds use for nesting were recently cut down by people collecting firewood in Buckland in south-east Tasmania. Tasmania Police tracked those who destroyed the trees to Hobart and the federal Department of the Environment is now investigating if the group broke national environment laws.

Kea ruffles residents’ feathers in Marlborough
NEW ZEALAND – Residents in rural Marlborough are on the lookout for a feathered hoodlum vandalising property. A rogue kea has been spotted in the Onamalutu Valley, about 25 kilometres west of Blenheim, leaving bicycle seats and spa pool covers in its wake. The Department of Conservation has warned residents to keep an eye out for the troublesome bird.

A kea has been spotted in Onamalutu Valley, west of Blenheim

A kea has been spotted in Onamalutu Valley, west of Blenheim

Economy and Business

California: Environmental AND economic success
US state California, regarded as implementing the most stringent environmental policies, has surpassed France to become the sixth largest economy in the world. Last month, California generated US $2.46 trillion in gross state product and produced 459, 400 non-farm jobs last year – more than any state in the nation. Such impressive GDP growth in California has earned California its place as one of the largest economies in the world – just behind the overall US economy, China, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Top Ten Ideas for Starting Your Own Green Small Business
You’re an advocate for saving our planet through environmental awareness.  You do all you can to spread the word about how to live a green life. Maybe now it’s time to take the next step.  You can encourage others to Go Green by starting your own eco-friendly small business.
See also part II: 2016’s Best Ideas for Starting a Green Small Business

Ag carbon credits go to market, just as cap and trade is questioned
Rice farmer Mark Isbell changed how he nurtures rice plants on 70 acres of his Arkansas farm. Instead of flooding the rice fields for the entire growing season, he now practices what is called alternating wet and dry farming, where he allows the water to drain from the rice field for about a week mid-season… Letting the fields temporarily dry has reduced the methane released from that rice field by 50 percent, compared to an adjacent field that was flooded all through the growing season, according to measurements taken by the University of Arkansas. More than 1,700 miles away in California, that methane reduction project on Isbell’s farm has been packaged into an agricultural carbon credit available to big companies, refineries and power plants regulated by California’s cap and trade program.

How BASF, Henkel Are Supporting Smallholders to Secure Supply of Sustainable Palm Oil
In recent years, palm oil has arguably become one of the world’s most ubiquitous and contentious raw materials in the consumer goods industry… Small farms produce roughly 40 percent of the world’s palm and palm kernel oil; an important question for the oil-producing countries is how to increase the yields from the land already under cultivation. This is why chemical giants Henkel and BASF – both of which use palm oil in a variety of their cosmetic and home care products – are collaborating with the development organization Solidaridad to support a project in Indonesia and advocate for smallholders and local initiatives.

Healthy Snack Boosts Sustainable Development on South Dakota Reservation
The Pine Ridge Indian reservation is not the first place you’d look for good news about creating a new kind of economy that works for everyone. This corner of South Dakota includes several of the poorest counties in America, according to census figures. Ninety-seven percent of Pine Ridge’s Lakota Indian population lives below the federal poverty line, reports the American Indian Humanitarian Foundation. The unemployment rate is well over 50 percent. Yet these dire conditions — compounded by public health problems like diabetes and addiction — have not snuffed hope. Growing numbers of Pine Ridge residents are embracing their own traditions as a path toward healing and economic self-sufficiency.

Waste and the Circular Economy

8 maps show plastic’s impact on the world’s oceans — and what’s being done about it
This collection of maps and charts prepared by Norway-based GRID-Arendal — a United Nations Environment Programme affiliate and partner with a mission of creating environmental knowledge to enable positive change — explains how plastic ends up in the world’s oceans and explores steps being taken to reverse this trend.

Politics and Society

California’s Blue Cut fire: climate change dismissed as ‘excuse’ on the ground
James Webb huddled on the hill with his dog and watched the fire advance, the flames licking through the cherry trees, the oak trees, the peach trees, then swaying just short of his home, the last home left in this part of the valley.  “We’ve been praying all day long, hoping for the best. I believe it’s working because our house is still standing even though everything around it has been burnt,” said the 20-year-old student. “It’s almost like a miracle.”
Related: ‘A changing climate is and will continue to put people out of their homes’

Satellite images used to predict poverty
Researchers have combined satellite imagery with AI to predict areas of poverty across the world. There’s little reliable data on local incomes in developing countries, which hampers efforts to tackle the problem. A team from Stanford University were able to train a computer system to identify impoverished areas from satellite and survey data in five African countries. The results are published in the journal Science.

Five truths about the hijab that need to be told
Many Muslim women today are wearing hijabs and other traditional dress to challenge the assumption that these are symbols of control. In fact, there are several revealing truths about Muslim dress that society must hear.

Flexible working is making us work longer
Contrary to what you might expect, those with more control over their work schedule work more than those with less control. In fact, people have a tendency to work more overtime hours once they are allowed to work flexibly, compared to when they were not.

‘Death-row dingoes’ plan to eradicate goats axed by Queensland Government to save vulnerable curlew
AUSTRALIA – The Queensland government has stopped a controversial project using wild dogs to kill feral goats on a Great Barrier Reef island. Environment Minister Dr Steven Miles has ordered Hinchinbrook Shire Council to remove the dogs within the next fortnight, saying they pose a threat to a vulnerable population of birds, the beach stone-curlew.

Gosford backs innovative Tiny House approach to homelessness
Gosford City Council has given the green light to a pilot tiny house project for homeless people on land adjacent to the Gosford Hospital, in what is believed to be an Australian first. The project is being developed by the Tiny Homes Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that has partnered with Sydney studio NBRS Architecture to develop a design for tiny homes that is affordable, environmentally sustainable, easy to assemble and replicable.

Homeless seeking driveways to rent
NEW ZEALAND – Some homeless Aucklanders are seeking driveways to rent so they can sleep in their cars. A man has placed an advertisement on a community noticeboard offering to pay rent to park his car on a property and use the shower and the kitchen. There had been reports of other similar requests.

Built Environment

Landscape is far more valuable than the boost to real estate
For many developers landscape is just “dead land” – that is there’s no money in it. But that’s not the findings of a new report that says economists could do well to give tree cover, green space and cultural features such as cafes the same weighting as transport, employment and other factors that contribute to liveability.

A task for Australia’s energy ministers: remove barriers to better buildings
Energy upgrades in Australia’s buildings could deliver a quarter of Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target. Improving energy performance through improved building design, heating and cooling systems, lighting and other equipment and appliances could also deliver more than half of our National Energy Productivity Target. Progress has been slow, however, and our research shows that delay leads to lost opportunities and billions in wasted energy costs.

Why even our premium grade buildings are failing on efficiency
There’s a story going around that a building lauded by many as one of Sydney’s most sustainable just doesn’t work. Energy use is nowhere near as low as expected, and no one’s really sure why. It’s something we hear from time-to-time at The Fifth Estate: a building gains significant attention along with a swag of stars and accolades for its sustainability credentials, only for us to hear from the owners that it’s costing a bomb in energy.

Food Systems

New online trawler tracking tool aims to help end overfishing
Anyone with internet access and a passion for seafood will soon be able to track commercial fishing trawlers all over the world, with a new tool that its developers hope will help end the overfishing that has decimated the world’s fish stocks. Millions of people depend on fish to survive, and fish will be vital to feeding the world’s growing population that is predicted to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050, the United Nations says. But overfishing has diminished fish stocks, and illicit fishing is threatening people’s access to food in many poor countries, according to the United Nations.

How three U.S. mini-farms are sowing the seeds of global food security
Her face shaded by a wide-brimmed straw hat, Olawumi Benedict is cheerfully tending to her “little babies” — kale seedlings growing in shallow wooden flats until they’re hardy enough for transplantation into soil beds. Three miles over the hills on another small farm, Jonnes Mlegwah is double-digging the soil with a spading fork, preparing to plant potatoes. Both are Africans, but these mini-farms are 140 miles north of San Francisco in Mendocino County, better known for the harvesting of redwood trees and marijuana plants than kale and potatoes.

Benedict and Mlegwah are a long way from home, and the biointensive farming system they’re mastering is a long way from becoming the norm — in the U.S. or Africa. Still, millions of small-scale farmers, especially in Latin America and Africa, are turning to it because it’s low-cost and low-tech, and it produces far greater yields than conventional agriculture while using far less land and water.


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