Sustainable Development News

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

One culled elephant is a tragedy; 20,000 poached is a statistic
Do we only care about “charismatic megafauna” being killed if the animal in question has a name or is the biggest of its kind? You’d be forgiven for thinking so, looking at the outrage over the shooting of Cecil the lion and the death last week of what is believed to be one of Africa’s largest elephants, as revealed today. Both were killed in Zimbabwe, by trophy hunters. Both have generated a huge amount of media coverage. But directing our anger at a single German national in the case of the elephant or a Minnesotan dentist in the case of Cecil is to miss the big picture – and that’s the widespread, illegal slaughter of our wildlife at industrial levels unseen for decades.

Energy and Climate Change

What you can do to help stop the cuts threatening the UK solar industry
The public has less than one week to influence planned government policy changes that are expected to dramatically scale back the solar industry. The government is proposing to cut the solar feed-in tariff by 87%. The subsidy supports householders, small businesses and community groups to invest in solar energy. The changes are currently scheduled to come into force next year, but the public can still contribute to the consultation and potentially influence the outcome.  Why is this significant and what can you do to influence the plans?

Arctic powers gather for Alaska talks as pace of global warming threatens ice cap
A crucial meeting of the Arctic Council, in Anchorage, comes amid evidence that the polar region is warming faster than any other place on Earth and that sea ice coverage there has shrunk by nearly a third since 1979. Researchers now fear that new threats to climate stability are about to be unleashed in the Arctic. Warming in high latitudes is causing permafrost in Siberia and northern Canada to thaw and release plumes of methane stored there, they say. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas and these releases threaten to trigger secondary rises in global temperatures.

Trouble at the edge of the world as Antarctica’s glaciers are undermined by warm water
Walk into your street, and step out five metres along the footpath. Mark that spot, return tomorrow and step out an extra five metres. Do this every day, and you’ll keep pace with warm sea water as it seeps under a West Antarctic glacier. This week a landmark study in Nature found global warming of 2 degrees would trigger a collapse of Antarctica’s critical floating ice shelves, making runaway sea level rise almost impossible to stop. But we don’t have to wait centuries to see this unfold. In West Antarctica’s Amundsen Sea, it’s happening already. There, rapid ice loss to climate change has been declared “unstoppable”.

Kiwi scientists formulate glacial erosion
Research on the South Island’s Franz Josef Glacier yielded a formulaic approach to tracking glacial erosion which may help scientists monitor change to respond to global warming. A group of international scientists, including researchers from New Zealand, have confirmed that the rate of glacial erosion is proportional to the square of the glacier’s speed, the New Zealand government’s Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences said October 9.

Greg Hunt approves Adani’s Carmichael coal mine, again: experts respond
Adani’s Carmichael coal mine yesterday received the green light from federal environment minister Greg Hunt for the second time. The mine, originally approved in July 2014, had its approval set aside following a failure to consider two endangered reptiles – the ornamental snake and the yakka skink. In a media release Hunt said that the approval comes with 36 of the strictest environmental conditions imposed in Australia. Final approval is pending Adani’s submission of a groundwater strategy to the federal environment department. The approval also includes a rail link from the mine to the Queensland coast as a “precautionary measure to provide investment certainty”. Below, our experts respond.

Paris 2015: UN Conference on Climate Change

Which countries are doing the most to stop dangerous global warming?
In November, nearly 200 countries meet in Paris for UN talks to agree a new climate deal. Find out below how their pledges – known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs in UN jargon – compare in our in-depth analysis of 14 key countries and blocs.

Oil companies deny that joint climate pledge is lip service
The heads of 10 major oil and gas companies have denied they are paying lip service to climate change initiatives while conducting business as usual. Eight of the 10 companies’ CEOs met in Paris on Friday and issued a joint statement saying they would “play their part” in battling climate change, ahead of the United Nations climate summit which opens in November. They also pledged their commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the hope of limiting global warning to 2C. But they dropped a commitment to putting a price on carbon that originally brought most of the group together. Six of the ten companies wrote an open letter earlier this year calling for governments to impose a price on carbon dioxide emissions.

Environment and Biodiversity

We are entering a new era of migration – and not just for people
The world is watching as refugees flood into a Europe unprepared for the new arrivals. Conflict and social unrest due in part to climate stress – including induced food shortages and social conflict – have prompted migrants to search for new homes and new opportunities. To ecologists, however, this comes as no surprise. When we look at the history of life on Earth, we see a repeated pattern in the response of living things to environmental change. Plants and animals alike have a remarkable capacity to migrate in response to changing conditions. Over many generations and thousands of years, this leads to wholesale changes in the geographic distribution of species and composition of the world’s ecosystems. Species may adapt to climate change, and sometimes go extinct, but movement is a nearly ubiquitous response.

The rainforests hold the key to taming El Niño’s destruction
This year’s El Niño, the ocean-traveling climate cycle notorious for throwing the weather off kilter, is nicknamed “Godzilla”. While it is projected to deliver plenty of rain to some parts of the world, including drought-parched California, it is already causing dangerously dry conditions in the tropics. Papua New Guinea, for example, is experiencing its worst drought in decades, which spells doom for coffee and food crops.

Canberrans warned to expect ‘drier, hotter summer’ but water restrictions mean city well prepared
AUSTRALIA – The Canberra region can expect a drier and hotter summer than usual according to the Bureau of Meterology. According to the bureau, Australia is experiencing “one of the most significant El Nino events since 1997-1998”. Canberra can expect “a 60-70 per cent chance of it being drier than normal” and a “70-80 per cent chance of it being warmer”. While the predictions may worry firefighters and farmers, authorities have said Canberra remains the most water-efficient city in Australia and has not returned to wasting the precious resource since water restrictions were lifted.

A new era for shark detection in Australia
New South Wales’ chief shark scientist believes Australia is on the verge of a new era in shark detection and protection. More than 200 people gathered at Lennox Head on the state’s north coast to hear from the state’s Minister for Primary Industries, scientists and those at the forefront of recent shark attack rescues.

Economy and Business

Cheap potatoes, pricey asparagus: what would a carbon tax mean for you?
When the world finally agrees to constrain the fossil fuel coming out of the ground, one result will be a price on carbon. Whether this comes about through a universal carbon tax or through a global carbon cap and trade system, the effect will be an additional cost that will be passed up the supply chains of all goods and services and reflected in the purchasers’ price. So let’s have a look at what a price of $100 per tonne of carbon dioxide might mean for both consumers and businesses. We can argue about the exact carbon price the world needs in order for enough fuel to stay in the ground, but $100 (£65) is probably in the right ballpark; even though this is somewhat higher than most businesses are currently contemplating.

The Indian child labour behind our patio stones
Best known for its gemstones and jewellery trade, Rajasthan is also home to a far less glittering industry. The Indian state’s sandstone sector employs millions of people , thousands of whom are child workers, some as young as five. According to a report released today, 38% of the children surveyed in Rajasthan’s Kota and Bundi districts work in sandstone quarries. Uneducated for the most part and often trapped by debt, the region’s child workers earn as little as £1 per day and are exposed to constant dust, fumes and gas at work.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Illegal dumping increasing in NSW, but the Garage Sale Trail is lending a hand
AUSTRALIA – One in three people in NSW have illegally dumped waste and recyclables in the past year. You know who you are. It’s that unwanted single mattress the kids have grown out of, the old TV it took 10 years to throw out, or the finally broken vacuum cleaner that never really worked anyway. No longer wanted, or needed, common household items like these often end up on the footpath, down back alleyways or even in the bush. Since 2004, NSW local government areas have reported an increase in illegal dumping, a problem costing one in 10 NSW councils more than $500,000 a year.

Hamilton scientists creating contamination-free world
NEW ZEALAND – Nigel Slaughter imagines  a world  with little or no contamination… Slaughter’s imagination is now becoming reality thanks to technology his 10-strong Hamilton team has developed. The technology filters liquids and airborne particles through thousands upon thousands of molecularly imprinted polymer coated beads inside tubes which are programmed to remove specific molecules, usually contaminants. Slaughter is chief executive of Ligar Polymers Research and Development, based at the AgResearch campus at Ruakura, which is completing a pilot project by recycling waste from Waitoa-based meat works company WallaceCorp’s tanning process. “What we are trying to do is make it reusable,” Slaughter said. “At the moment it goes into landfill.”

New Zealand ‘a cesspit’, chemist behind Opuha DDT claims says
A chemist claiming pesticides contaminate South Canterbury’s Opihi catchment believes New Zealand is a “cesspit” of polluted sites. Dr Nick Wall claims arsenic in DDT granules found at the Opuha River at Skipton Bridge, near Fairlie, originated from sediment from Lake Opuha. Regional authority Environment Canterbury (ECan) removed about two kilograms of sediment it said contained DDT granules containing arsenic on Wednesday.

Politics and Society

Sustainable Development Goal 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies
The inclusion of a goal to promote peaceful and inclusive societies in the new post-2015 development agenda marks the significant awareness that peace and security is critical for poverty eradication and sustainable development. However, concerns have been raised over how to measure progress toward such a goal and how to translate universal targets and indicators at the national level. With the highest number of targets, 10, and the lowest number of means of implementation, just two, is SDG No. 16: The pursuit of peace, justice and good governance, destined to remain the stuff of idealistic hopes and Miss Universe aspirations? Or is there a practical role for business?

In Australia, both Coalition and Labor remain wedded to fossil fuels
The response to Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s approval of the massive Carmichael coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin was as swift as it was damming. The decision has appalled environmentalists and academics, and attracted the attention of international media, particularly in the context of the Paris climate talks, just weeks ago… But it shouldn’t be forgotten that this is a bipartisan position between both major parties.

Carmichael mine: No federal subsidies for Adani but ‘strong moral case’ for coal, Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg says
Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg believes there is a “strong moral case” for the Adani Carmichael coal mine, saying it will help boost living conditions in developing countries around the world. The Federal Government last week re-approved the $16 billion Adani Carmichael project in central Queensland, which will be Australia’s largest coal mine, subject to a list of strict conditions.

Share don’t scare: we need to nurture (and learn from) young cultural leaders
The classic model of cultural leadership education aims to propel mid-career professionals towards directorships. University courses often focus on management, and prepare students for existing models of career progression within recognisable organisational formats. But young practitioners are redefining the future of the arts and culture right now – often through independent spaces and self-initiated projects. The National Experimental Arts Forum held last week in Perth was a vibrant demonstration of the way in which young artists, performers, curators and organisers generate new kinds of infrastructure and new ways of defining and engaging with audiences.

Why students make silly mistakes in class (and what can be done)
Children often find it difficult to solve problems in the classroom, which can lead to silly errors being made. But are these mistakes made because of carelessness? Or is there another reason to explain why this occurs? A theory of learning known as “cognitive load theory” can help shed light on why children make mistakes.

Built Environment

World Solar Challenge: Dutch car Stella Lux takes pole position
AUSTRLAIA – A Netherlands-based solar car that can carry four people and is legal to drive on roads in the European Union has secured pole position in the World Solar Challenge ahead of a gruelling 3,000-kilometre race across Australia. Team Eidenhoven’s car, called Stella Lux, recorded an average speed of 90.6 kilometres per hour during its lap of Darwin’s Hidden Valley Raceway on Saturday.

Volvo announces range-wide electrification plan
Swedish carmaker Volvo has announced a comprehensive electrification strategy which will see plug-in hybrids introduced across its entire range and a fully electric car on sale by 2019.  The announcement forms part of a new strategy for Volvo, which expects electrified vehicles to account for 10% of its total car sales by 2019.


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