Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
If you like what you see, you are welcome to sign up (on the right) for free sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning.

Top Story

Cute native sugar gliders offer pest control solution for southern NSW farmers
AUSTRALIA – Sugar gliders are more than just a cute little creature, they also act as a natural pest control, eating Christmas beetles and protecting young native trees. In the Bega Valley in southern New South Wales landholders are building boxes to house sugar gliders on their properties.  Sugar gliders look a lot like a tiny possums, weighing in at just at 160 grams. They spend their nights gliding between trees in search of food. As their name suggests they love their nectar, but they are partial to insects too. Sugar gliders usually live in old tree hollows, but if these aren’t available then a purpose built nesting box is the next best thing.

Energy and Climate Change

Current Paris climate pledges ‘won’t limit global warming to 2C’
Pledges made by countries ahead of the Paris UN Conference in December are not sufficient to limit global warming to 2°C, according to analysis published today (19 August) by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change.  The US is expected to offer emissions cuts of 26 to 28% by 2025, the EU has agreed to cut its emissions by 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, while China has promised its emissions will peak by 2030.  However the analysis concludes that the intended national determined contributions (INDCs) that have been submitted by 46 countries would lead to annual global emissions in 2030 of 56.9 to 59.1bn tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. At most this is 12bn tonnes more than the level UNEP says would give the planet a 50-66% chance of limiting global warming to less than 2°C.

Forget the hostile Congress – Obama can cut global climate deals on his own terms
While US President Barack Obama has been pushing forward on domestic climate policy with the EPA Clean Power Plan, the conventional wisdom is that he can do very little on the international front, and that any US involvement with a climate treaty would need the approval of the recalcitrant Congress. Yet this conventional wisdom is simply wrong: Obama can craft an international climate agreement without the consent of the Senate or the House of Representatives.

‘Wrong type of coal’ raises China’s CO2 emissions
Confusion over the types of coal being burned in Chinese power stations has caused a significant overestimation of the country’s carbon emissions. Researchers say that existing calculations of China’s CO2 were made using a globally averaged formula. But when scientists tested the types of coal actually being burned in China, they found they produced 40% less carbon than had been assumed. The study says the error amounted to 10% of global emissions in 2013.

Scotland’s last coal-fired power station to close in March
Scottish Power has announced that its coal-fired Longannet power station will be closing on 31 March 2016 after 46 years of service .  The closure was first announced back in March 2015, reportedly thanks to high carbon taxes and the high cost of connecting to the grid. Neil Clitheroe, the CEO of retail and generation at ScottishPower, said it was a sad day for the company, but green groups hailed the closure as a ‘historic step’ in Scotland’s energy transition.

The real problem with network demand: air-con and pool pumps
Data from Australia’s first large-scale smart grid project have revealed that typical suburban households with air-conditioning and pools used between 80 and 97 per cent more energy than their neighbours who had neither. The results of the study, published online in Elsevier’s international journal Energy and Buildings, found that Sydney houses with ducted air-conditioning used 79 per cent more electricity than those without, while the 15 per cent of households surveyed which had pools had an annual electricity demand 93 per cent higher than those without pools.

Can battery storage costs really fall below $100/kWh?
$US100/kWh: It’s the magical number that has been painted as something of a Holy Grail for the battery storage industry, and the solar and electric vehicle technologies that will be whisked along in its footsteps. It’s the goal, too, of Tesla founder and boss Elon Musk, who says he would be disappointed if battery storage costs did not break that barrier by 2020, from the $US350/kWh implied by the upcoming Tesla PowerWall battery storage system for homes and businesses. But can it be done? Not everyone is so sure. As UBS analysts said in a recent report: “Many investors assume that reaching this target is a given; however, we are highly sceptical that this can be achieved.”

Environment and Biodiversity

Walk your commute and reconnect with a wilder landscape
You should walk home from work. Last week I did exactly this – a four day journey to connect me with places I commute through every week and to raise money for Rewilding Britain. I found landscapes empty not just of plant and animal diversity, but of people – an environment fenced, tamed and emasculated. It is not just Britain’s uplands that need rewilding, it’s the places on our doorstep, too.

South Australian Government buys coastal land to protect critically-endangered orange-bellied parrot
About 40 hectares of coastal land in South Australia’s lower south-east has been bought by the State Government in a bid to protect the habitat of the critically-endangered orange-bellied parrot. Environment and Conservation Minister Ian Hunter… said the land purchases would provide an important corridor of remnant native vegetation which would benefit the parrots, which are known to migrate along the coast. “Some of them are the thatch and grass sedgeland — it’s a wetland community — that’s considerably vulnerable due to clearance and drainage, swamp habitats and also the antechinus, the swamp antechinus, the olive whistler bird and of course the very famous orange-bellied parrot,” he said. “It’s been long known to be a vulnerable population and linking up areas of habitat give it the best possibility of maintaining its nesting sites.

Fact check: Does Australia have one of the ‘highest loss of species anywhere in the world’?
A recent Federal Court decision setting aside approval of the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland has sparked debate about whether courts should have that kind of power. The project was sidelined because the Federal Government had not properly considered environmental advice around two vulnerable species in the area.  Greens leader Richard Di Natale says it is important that endangered species be considered by the courts because Australia has “one of the highest loss of species anywhere in the world”.

10 of Our Favorite Orangutan Pictures
In honor of International Orangutan Day on August 19, we took a closer look at these lovable tree dwellers.
Solitary and intelligent, the orangutan is the only great ape native to Asia—but it’s possible the continent may soon have none. That’s because orangutan numbers are dwindling as the animals are driven from their habitats by deforestation for palm oil plantations. The island of Borneo (map) may house only 54,000 of the endangered animal, and on Sumatra (map), just 6,600 remain, according to WWF. That’s a drop from possibly 230,000 of the primates a century ago. But there’s one bright spot for this fiery-furred ape: Many companies have committed to only using palm oil from areas that weren’t destroyed by logging.  Two species of orangutan—whose name comes from the Malay word for “person of the forest”—swing from the trees in Sumatra and Borneo: The Sumatran orangutan, Pongo abelii, and the Bornean orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus.

Cuddle Time These orphaned Bornean orangutans, Pongo pygmaeus, cuddle at the Sepilok Reserve in Sabah, Borneo, which is part of Malaysia. The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre was founded in 1964 to help such orphans.

Cuddle Time These orphaned Bornean orangutans, Pongo pygmaeus, cuddle at the Sepilok Reserve in Sabah, Borneo, which is part of Malaysia. The Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre was founded in 1964 to help such orphans.
Photograph by Frans Lanting, National Geographic Creative

Economy and Business

Citi: Renewables and energy efficiency will reduce planet’s energy bill by $1.8trn
Switching to a low-carbon energy system immediately could save the planet $1.8trn by 2040, global investment bank Citi has claimed.  The bank this week released a report, Energy Darwinism II: Why a Low Carbon Future Doesn’t Have to Cost the Earth, comparing a business-as-usual scenario to one where the planet invests heavily in renewables and energy efficiency in the short-term. The total spend on energy over the next 25 years is found to be “remarkably similar” in both scenarios with the ‘Action’ scenario implying a total spend of $190.2trn compared to $192trn for inaction.

Ditch your assumptions about Uber and Airbnb: the ‘gig economy’ is no game-changer
Big claims have been made that the future of work lies in self-employment, multiple job holding, short duration employment and temporary employees. The permanent employee job, we are told, is on its way out..  This so-called gig economy – the trading of individual tasks and commissions (or “gigs”) online – is associated with the growth of self-employed, freelancers, and micro-entrepreneurs working either full or part time. However, there is some confusion. There is strong overlap with the “sharing economy”. Although the latter has been interpreted as part of a wider social and community based movement, many of the larger scale companies operating in this space are essentially rebadged capitalist enterprises such as Airbnb, Uber or digital marketplaces such as E-Bay…

Why 50 per cent of the investment industry cares about ESG
There has likely never been a time as important for companies to manage sustainability related issues than right now. On a weekly basis there are examples of companies’ share prices diving off the back of alleged or actual mismanagement of environmental issues, regulatory issues, internal business ethics, community relations, supply chain or human resources issues. Take financial services company IOOF for example. Allegations of misconduct, insider trading and other corrupt practices was enough to wipe 20 per cent off the share price in a single day in June…

Ooooby expanding to reinvigorate local food economies
NEW ZEALAND – Ooooby is pushing the envelope of food business. While many other companies exist solely for their own gain, Ooooby has the intention of reinvigorating local food economies and paying off for everyone. Named after the acronym for Out of our own back yards, Ooooby developed an online platform to connect food producers direct to grocery shoppers in their local area. But the system Ooooby has come up with doesn’t just provide a helping hand for the food industry; it also grants a greater ease of choice to local consumers, making for a more engaged and self-sustaining community. Ultimately, the complexity and costs of the entire food economy is reduced, making for a better experience from anyone involved – from producer, to customer, to investor.

News Corp plugs electric vehicles for staff, rooftop solar
Rupert Murdoch’s Australian mastheads are not exactly known as champions of green energy or climate policies, but a new deal between News Corp Australia and car maker Mitsubishi could see them lead the charge for green driving. According to an email from News Corps “Environmental Sustainability Initiative”, Mitsubishi is offering News full time permanent staff a heavily discounted 12 month lease on its hybrid electric Outlander, the world’s first plug-in hybrid SUV.

First green Indian rupee bond issued outside India
A green Indian rupee bond has been issued outside India for the first time, in a move designed to raise finance for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The bond, dubbed a “Masala bond”, is worth 3.15bn rupees (£31m) and was issued on the London Stock Exchange earlier this month by the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The proceeds will be invested through Yes Bank – one of India’s largest commercial banks – and used to fund renewable energy and energy efficiency projects across India.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Green Alliance says EU circular economy could cut unemployment and lower household bills
Improved design standards and promotion of demand for reused products and recycled materials can deliver more jobs, according to Green Alliance. Along with a better deal for consumers, this could be provided by the European Union’s circular economy package. Drawing on lessons from the UK, Green Alliance has produced an infographic which shows how better resource policies can support jobs in areas of high unemployment, and deliver the longer-lasting products that householders want.

7 Key Players Needed to Take Us Over the Circular Economy Finish Line
Circular business models thrive on longevity, reuse and capacity sharing – they disrupt, uncover customer value and drive resource efficiency. Many would agree that society needs to adopt this circular thinking, but how do we really make it happen at large? The truth is, there are several players required to accelerate the journey to a more circular economy; it can’t be achieved by certain echelons of society alone. Instead, it requires a holistic view of the diverse role business, public bodies and investors all have to play to accelerate the uptake of circular principles.

BBP guidelines help Sydney’s commercial buildings cut waste
GPT and Sydney Opera House have doubled recycling rates since taking on the Better Building Partnership’s operational waste guidelines, the City of Sydney says. The guidelines help property managers better classify waste, implement a management plan and create performance targets. GPT was one of the first companies to take on the guidelines two years ago and has doubled recycling rates. “A more detailed, accurate and transparent approach to waste management is resulting in better decisions leading to higher recycling rates and lower costs,” GPT national manager energy performance Steve Ford said. “Some assets have more than doubled their recycling rates while cutting costs by around 10 per cent, and there is room for further improvements.”

Politics and Society

The government vs the environment: lawfare in Australia
A key feature of authoritarianism is that the government is above the law – it is not accountable to the people for its actions. In contrast, under a democratic system, the rule of law means that the government is constrained by law and can be held accountable by the people. This is particularly pertinent to the move by Attorney-General George Brandis to restrict green groups from challenging major developments under federal law, a direct response from this month’s successful appeal against the approval of the controversial Carmichael coal mine, being developed by the Adani Group, on environmental grounds.

Teaching how to think is just as important as teaching anything else
A new paper on teaching critical thinking skills in science has pointed out, yet again, the value of giving students experiences that go beyond simple recall or learned procedures. It is a common lamentation that students are not taught to think, but there is usually an accompanying lack of clarity about exactly what that might mean. There is a way of understanding this idea that is conceptually easy and delivers a sharp educational focus – a way that focuses on the explicit teaching of thinking skills through an inquiry process, and allows students to effectively evaluate their thinking.

Education without borders: teaching Syria’s lost generation
Four years into the Syrian conflict and almost three million Syrian children are out of school. Economic pressures on families who have fled to neighbouring countries mean children face years without formal education, many forced into child labour or early marriage.  With only 2% of international humanitarian aid allocated to education, some companies are going beyond traditional philanthropy to help Syria’s child refugees get back to school.

Damned lies, Minister Hunt and climate models
If you believe what you read in the Daily Telegraph saving the planet must mean trashing the economy. That’s their story and they’re sticking to it, no matter what the evidence shows. If the numbers show the opposite, well, they have ways. And so last week the Murdoch tabloid took a bunch of numbers concocted in Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s office and turned them into the screaming headline “ALP’s $600B Carbon Bill”… The story was purportedly based on modelling results commissioned by the Climate Change Authority from Treasury and the then Department of Climate Change. Yet the conclusions Minister Hunt and the Telegraph reached were the opposite of those drawn by Treasury (and endorsed by the Climate Change Authority in its 2014 report).

TPP protest draws thousands
NEW ZEALAND – Thousands of protesters gathered in Aotea Square in Auckland on Saturday 15 August to rally against the controversial, criticized, and secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Demonstrators shouted “TPPA, walk away” in unison as they marched down Queen Street to the United States Consulate, where organisers and politicians spoke and led chants. The march remained peaceful, and there was a limited police presence. Children with balloons and face paint joined the march as well as numerous foreigners, despite warnings to avoid the demonstration. Those who oppose the agreement complain that it would limit New Zealand’s sovereignty, and consequently its ability to monitor and control national problems like climate change and healthcare.

Protests by 1,000s of Ecuadorians meet with brutal repression
Ecuador is currently in turmoil. Thousands of people are protesting proposed constitutional amendments, the expansion of the oil frontier, mining projects, changes to water and education policy, labour laws and pensions, a proposed “Free Trade Agreement” (FTA) with the European Union (EU), and increasing repression of freedom of speech, among other things. The government’s response? To send the police and military with batons and tear-gas to beat citizens, make arbitrary arrests, raid homes and even – some people believe – to take advantage of volcanic eruptions by declaring a nationwide “State of Exception”.

Hillary Clinton declares opposition to Arctic drilling as Shell begins search for oil
US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has spoken out against further drilling in the Arctic, yesterday arguing oil exploration in the region is “not worth the risk”. Clinton’s comment came just a day after the Obama administration gave oil giant Shell final approval to begin drilling for oil in the Arctic Chukchi Sea off the north-west coast of Alaska. “The Arctic is a unique treasure. Given what we know, it’s not worth the risk of drilling,” Clinton wrote in a post on Twitter.

Built Environment

Sustainable home in Taranaki wins multiple awards
NEW ZEALAND – A brilliant example of a sustainable home in New Plymouth has taken out top prizes in the Taranaki Registered Master Builders 2015 House of the Year. The winning home meant Pepper Construction were given five regional awards, including a Gold Award and category win for the ITM New Home up to $300,000. It also gained the Taranaki Registered Master Builders Supreme Award for the 2015 House of the Year, and the company won the Craftsmanship and Resene Sustainable Home Awards for the project. “This home is only about 65 square metres, beautifully built and totally sustainable. It collects its own rain water, has solar panels and its own sewage system,” the competition judges said.

Food Systems

Fonterra desperate for high value organic milk
Fonterra says it is “desperate” to gets its hands on organic milk supplies because it is worth five times more than conventional. Recently, in an offer that was not made public, Fonterra increased the premium it pays to organic farmers by 25c per kilogram of milk solids, to a total of $1.75. Added to the forecast price of $3.85 announced last week and organic suppliers will receive $5.60 per kg/ms for this season. The international retail price of organic milk powder is $14,600 per tonne compared to about $2800 for non-organic. Skim organic powder fetches $12,500. In a letter to a New Zealand organic processor, Fonterra’s business manager of liquids, Rob Rich, writes “we are desperately short of organic products and this season supply will have to be rationed”. He said demand far exceeded supply, helping organic products retain their value.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.