Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

UK lobbying to keep open one of Europe’s dirtiest coal power stations
The UK government is lobbying the European commission (EC) to keep open one of Europe’s dirtiest coal power stations, even though its nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions exceed new legal limits by five times. The EC has begun infraction proceedings against the UK because its proposals for reducing emissions under new European laws have been littered with “inconsistent or missing” data. Aberthaw power plant in south Wales was named in the top 30 highest carbon-emitting plants in Europe by an alliance of NGOs last month. But its emissions of NOx, which causes respiratory problems and lung disease, are also extremely high.


Monarch Butterfly’s Reign Threatened by Milkweed Decline
Fewer monarch butterflies are crossing North America to winter in Mexico, and the biggest culprit seems to be the disappearance of milkweed in the United States. The trend is particularly troubling because monarchs have long been considered both an indicator of our ecological health and a representative of pollinator populations. Monarch butterflies travel up to 3,000 miles each fall to their wintering site in central Mexico, which was discovered by National Geographic grantee Fred A. Urquhart and his team in 1975. Once the butterflies arrive, a census by citizen scientists estimates how many have completed the trip. In 2004, an estimated 550 million completed the winter migration, while in 2013 only 33 million arrived. Further, between 2012 and 2013, there was a 43.7 percent decrease in the area occupied by the butterflies in their winter sanctuaries. (See “Monarch Butterflies Hit New Low; ‘Worrisome’ Trend.”)

WA’s western trout minnow, a critically endangered fish species, bred in captivity for first time
The critically endangered western trout minnow has been bred in captivity for the first time, in a program that is hoped will help shore up the population. The western trout minnow is so rare it is only found in three small rivers in WA’s Great Southern region. It was the first freshwater fish species in Australia to be listed as critically endangered. Researchers from the University of Western Australia and the Department of Fisheries have managed to breed the fish in a laboratory, and hope to restock the rivers in a couple of years. Principal research scientist Dr Craig Lawrence said there is also a team examining the reasons why the fish are becoming extinct. “They are specifically looking at the reasons why several rare species in WA have got very low numbers in the wild,” he said.

India’s lesser-known species threatened by wildlife poaching
India’s less iconic species, such as pangolins and tortoises, are being hunted or illegally traded, according to campaigners who say that more conservation efforts are needed to preserve less well-known wildlife. Majestic tigers, elephants and rhinos are not the only species being hunted towards extinction, warn the conservationists, who say that less popular animals such as pangolins and Indian star tortoises are also threatened in the country, mostly because of rising demand from China and Vietnam.

Economy and Business

Businesses prefer to turn a blind eye to the global migration debate
If the world’s estimated 232 million migrants all lived in the same country, it would be the fifth most populous nation on Earth. And their number is growing. As companies globalise, so does labour. Moreover, flooding, desertification and other predicted impacts of climate change could force millions of others to migrate. Given the scale of global migration, business’ silence on the issue is odd. The private sector prefers to turn a blind eye, says Nava Hinrichs, managing director at The Hague Process on Refugees and Migration (THP), a Dutch non-profit.

Bosch drives business into growing buildings sector
Bosch, known for its high quality German designed products, is moving parts of its Australian operations out of automotive manufacturing and into the growing field of buildings and energy efficiency, predicting the sector will soon comprise a 30-40 per cent share of its business. The company recently launched a new HVAC optimisation system, BAOPT, which it says reduces power use by up to 40 per cent with minimal capital spend.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Earth sliding into ‘ecological debt’ earlier and earlier, campaigners warn
Humans have used up the natural resources the world can supply in a year in less than eight months, campaigners have warned. The world has now reached “Earth overshoot day”, the point in the year when humans have exhausted supplies such as land, trees and fish and outstripped the planet’s annual capacity to absorb waste products including carbon dioxide. The problem is worsening, with the planet sliding into “ecological debt” earlier and earlier, so that the day on which the world has used up all the natural resources available for the year has shifted from early October in 2000 to August 19 in 2014. In 1961, humans used only around three-quarters of the capacity Earth has for generating food, timber, fish and absorbing greenhouse gases, with most countries having more resources than they consumed.

Nettles, tofu and snail poo: sustainable textiles made from the unexpected
The global textile industry is among the most polluting and wasteful in the world, but there are some weird and wonderful material innovations out there (including biorubber for wetsuits by Patagonia).

Politics and Society

RET dumping would create energy nightmare for councils
Intense speculation over the Abbott government’s real intentions surrounding the potential scrapping of the Renewable Energy Target (RET) have sent shock waves through the local government sector. Councils now fear they will struggle badly to manage future peak electricity demand and control runaway electricity costs in future heatwaves that could blow big holes in budgets if the plug is pulled on the target. The rub for already nervous councils is that the hundreds of millions of dollars in time and money already sunk into renewable energy could be squandered and force them to deal with extreme weather without projected additional renewable energy capacity.

Anti-protest laws: Nationwide rallies planned over Tasmanian Government’s legislation
Demonstrations over the Tasmanian Government’s proposed anti-protest legislation have been organised around the country today. Hundreds gathered on the front steps Tasmania’s Parliament House this morning to demonstrate against the legislation, which is now bound for the Upper House. The legislation includes on-the-spot fines and mandatory jail sentences for people who trespass on workplaces.

What I learned from debating science with trolls
I often like to discuss science online and I’m also rather partial to topics that promote lively discussion, such as climate change, crime statistics and (perhaps surprisingly) the big bang. This inevitably brings out the trolls. “Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but I’ve ignored it on occasion – including on The Conversation and Twitter – and I’ve been rewarded. Not that I’ve changed the minds of any trolls, nor have I expected to. But I have received an education in the tactics many trolls use. These tactics are common not just to trolls but to bloggers, journalists and politicians who attack science, from climate to cancer research.

Food Systems

Green MashUp: why China needs to impose on other nations for food and water
China has been buying arable land all over the world. As National Geographic points out, China eats about 20 per cent of the world’s food, reasonably expected for its 1.3 billion people. But the country only has nine per cent of the world’s farmland. That means one thing: China has to buy arable land for food security.


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