Sustainable Development News

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

1.85 million Brits financing ‘positive investment’ market
A record 1.85 million people across the UK have invested a total of £3.6bn in ways that to create positive social and environmental impact, according to a market update from investment platform Ethex.  ‘Positive investments’ in ethical banks, community shares and businesses with a strong social or environmental mission grew by 11% last year – more than four times faster than the 2.4% average growth of UK household savings and investments over the past five years.

Energy and Climate Change

Australia finally gets serious about fridges and ozone, climate pollution
Coalition government MP Bob Baldwin chaired a Ministerial Roundtable for the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning industry last Friday (October 16) on behalf of environment minister Greg Hunt. The meeting was ground breaking because he called for what amounts to a new beginning for the development of the Ozone Protection Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act: the federal legislation that underpins the Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Industry (HVACR) in Australia. The Options Paper endorsed by Minister Hunt calls for 85% phase down of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant emissions by 2036.

Melbourne city council cashes in from Clean Energy Finance Corporation for climate plans
Melbourne city council has received a $30 million loan from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to try turbo charge its plans to cut the CBD’s greenhouse gas emissions to zero by the end of the decade. The bulk of the money will be used to accelerate the switching of 16,000 city street lights to energy saving LED bulbs. There is currently only about 1300 LED street lights within the city’s boundary. The cash will also be used to install solar panels on council buildings and bolster the city’s sustainability fund to encourage the retrofitting of commercial buildings. City council will also set aside $4.4 million of the money to pay for measures that will come out of an emissions reduction plan that is expected to be released early next year.

Climate change means plants are growing better, but they are drinking more water
Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is making plants in Australia’s semi-arid and subtropical regions bigger and greener. It’s also making them a hell of a lot thirstier. It is a peculiar paradox that sees plants “greening” and growing better as a result of climate change, while water supply across Australia’s grazing and annual cropping land is suffering.

Off-Grid Solar Startup Bringing Affordable, Reliable Electricity to Haiti
Haitian off-grid utility startup RE-VOLT is on a mission to bring affordable and reliable electricity to families in rural Haiti and is running a crowdfunding campaign to help fund the expansion of its service to more customers, according to a recent announcement.

Paris 2015: UN Conference on Climate Change

France launches global drive for climate deal
France has launched an unprecedented diplomatic drive to shepherd nations big and small towards a major climate change deal, ahead of a Paris summit next month that is the next major make-or-break moment for the movement against global warming.

Report: Rich countries failing to accept ‘fair share’ of climate action
The climate pledges made by rich countries are less than their ‘fair share’, according to new report released today (19 October).  The report, Fair Shares: A Civil Society Equity Review of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) comes from the Civil Society – a group of NGOs, social movements, faith groups and trade unions.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

UK Environment Agency divests in landmark move to help meet 2C limit
The £2.9bn UK’s Environment Agency pension fund (EAFP) has become the first in the world to change its investment choices to help meet the internationally-agreed target of limiting global warming to 2C.  The move will include divestment of 90% of its coal assets and 50% of its oil and gas stocks by 2020.

Environment and Biodiversity

We created a new material from orange peel that can clean up mercury pollution
Mercury pollution is one of the most insidious problems in our environment. Today my colleagues and I at Flinders University have unveiled a new material than can scrub mercury from the environment, as a result of research to be published this week. The material – sulphur-limonene polysulphide – binds to mercury and changes colour, helping us see how effective it is.

Little farmer, big pharma: the quest to modify plants to ‘grow’ medicines
This month Craik and Anderson received the biennial Ramaciotti Biomedical Research Award to develop plants as “biofactories” – essentially genetically reprogramming something biological (such as a plant or microbe) to do industrial-scale grunt work – to produce a class of compounds called cyclotides. As a long-term goal, this project offers the tantalising possibility that plants containing otherwise unaffordable drugs, such as agents to treat HIV, could be farmed on a small scale at low cost by communities that need them most. Active drugs could be obtained by a process as simple as making tea.

Thousands of rhinos, 500 poachers; grim toll in the hunt for prized horns
SOUTH AFRICA – When guests – usually affluent and white – gaze from air-conditioned bedrooms into the perfect darkness of the bush, few are likely to consider the murderous chase taking place there between poacher, ranger and rhino. For the poachers – usually poor and black – the risks are immense, but so are the rewards. “When you look at the impoverished communities around us and the unemployment rate in South Africa, you’d have to be naive to think it’s not going to explode,” said Tim Parker, a warden managing Moditlo and Thornybush Nature Reserve, where anti-poaching costs have gone up 500% in the past three years. “Soon there are going to be gun battles. I can see it coming.”\

Economy and Business

When Uber is legal the taxi industry will have nowhere to hide
AUSTRALIA – In the latest instalment of Uber versus the taxi industry, the Taxi Industry Forum of WA has conceded the sector could have done better. Responding to a Western Australian Government green paper into the “on demand” transport industry, it has reportedly criticised the UberX model, but also admitted its own failure to keep up with technological advances and changing consumer expectations. Digital disrupters such as Uber have been praised by industry commentators for promoting a sharing economy that challenges established oligopolistic transport providers and bypasses government regulation. So there was some irony in last month’s announcement from the ACT Government, home of bureaucratic regulatory activity, that it will pass laws to make Uber “legal”.

Can B Corps take companies beyond the bottom line?
Some organisations are now taking a more fundamental approach to tackling environmental issues, arguing that an exclusive focus on profits is unnecessarily preventing businesses from putting social values at their core. They argue a whole new understanding of what constitutes a business may be required to ensure environmental and social issues are properly addressed by the private sector. And now that vision is being put into practice with the emergence of the B Corporation, or B Corp, movement. First developed in the US, the B Corp concept provides a framework — and certification — to companies to help them redefine success in business, offering them a legal structure that makes it easier for managers to put an equal emphasis on serving workers, communities, and the wider environment, alongside shareholders.

Report: Obama to discuss climate strategy with blue chips
Chief executives from Johnson & Johnson, Intel Corp and Berkshire Hathaway Energy are today expected to meet with President Barack Obama to discuss the role of business in tackling climate change. According to Bloomberg, Obama will also meet with chiefs from Hershey and PG&E, in an effort to shore up support for climate action ahead of the United Nations summit due to start in Paris next month. Five supply chain companies will also join the roundtable discussion, which will look at national and international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to the worst impacts of climate change.

SB 657 in Review: Why Businesses Have a Stake in Supply Chain Transparency
It’s been five years since California signed a groundbreaking piece of legislation that set a legal precedent around the world. the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act, better known as SB 657, requires manufacturers and retailers with more than $100 million in gross annual receipts to disclose their efforts to ensure that their supply chains are free of human trafficking and forced labor. At the time, the law was the first of its kind. Since then, California’s leadership to eradicate human trafficking in supply chains has made way for a wave of reform efforts in Congress, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.

How to mismanage climate risk until it hurts
AUSTRALIA – There’s an old saying that what counts is what gets counted, there’s a less well-known adage that says, what doesn’t get counted can cost you a fortune. The Australian insurance industry is finding out all about that one now because over the last five years the industry has dropped the ball when it comes to managing the risk posed by climate change. There are three reasons why they have failed shareholders and customers; a lack of sufficient research, reporting and an almost complete absence of collaboration nationally or internationally. And these three failures stem from a lack of leadership within the industry itself. Since 2010 each of the major general insurers have incurred significant losses where claims exceeded natural disaster provisions: IAG $364million, QBE $1.29billion and Suncorp $1.12billion.

Ford factories save enough energy ‘to power Oxford for a year’ (Infographic included 🙂
US carmaker Ford has announced its European factories will have cut energy consumption by 25% in 2016 compared with 2011, saving around 800GWh a year.  The manufacturer said the expected saving is equivalent to the energy used each year by a city with a population of 170,000, such as Oxford.

Ford charges up solar powered electric vehicle network
Ford is set to expand its network of workplace stations for employees in the USA to charge their plug-in electric vehicles. The automaker installed the first workplace charging station in September 2014, and now has 143 units available at 43 of sites in the US and Canada. Ford says twenty more are currently in the works, and it hopes to install higher numbers across the region in the long term.

Forestry boost as companies seek to export ‘responsibly managed’ timber products
AUSTRALIA – There are signs Tasmania’s forestry industry is picking up, with hopes of increased exports of veneer and sawlogs from the state’s north. Forestry company Neville-Smith Smartfibre has teamed up with SFM Forest Products and there are plans to export timber products from Tasmania’s north.  SFM has Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, meaning its products can be authorised as “responsibly managed” and are more attractive on the international market.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The truth behind flushable wipes
Flushable wipes are becoming increasingly popular for use in New Zealand homes, but they’re the bane of many sewerage systems and testing has found that they shouldn’t be flushed at all. A joint Consumer New Zealand and Choice Australia study has found that many of the products do not break down in water at all – even when agitated for more than an hour. The consumer organisations tested 11 “flushable” wipe products – including those for personal use and those for cleaning the household.

Four ways Asia can cut the amount of plastic waste it dumps in the ocean
An estimated 95% of plastic in oceans is under the surface, and if current trends continue, there could be one ton of plastic in the sea for every three tons of fish. A recent study we did for Ocean Conservancy found that one of the regions that suffers most is south-east Asia. On average, only around 40% of all waste is collected in China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The costly problem of illegal dumping in the Waikato
It was a stuffy summer afternoon in Whakatane, ’roundabout 1999, when my world view on littering changed forever.I was chewing gum in the back of a Subaru Legacy with my cousin, waiting for my aunty to run errands in the main street. I wound my window down just enough to let my gum fall on to the road. My cousin, two years younger than me and usually a lemming in anything I did, dropped her mouth open, mortified.  “OMIGOSH I cannot believe you did that!” “It’s just gum, everyone does it,” I replied in my I-know-more-than-you voice. Her horror didn’t wane, and sure enough when Aunty returned to the car, my cousin announced my sins to her mother.  “You naughty girl!” she growled, adding she wouldn’t have given me gum if she knew I was going to throw it out the window.  It was the first time I remember really, really thinking about the consequences of what I threw away.

Politics and Society

Van Jones on the green jobs gap and what’s wrong with resilience
“As the new green economy springs to life, will we live in eco-equity or eco-apartheid?” Van Jones first posed the question back in 2005, when a strong economy still wasn’t doing much to budge wealth disparities between individuals of different races and cost-prohibitive renewable energy was stuck on the fringes. Now, amid a simultaneous surge in clean energy and mounting anxiety about unevenly distributed economic opportunity — particularly in systemically underserved, poor communities of color — the nexus between social and environmental issues is more relevant than ever. Jones, as a social and environmental justice activist, attorney, former White House green jobs adviser and media commentator, has founded multiple organizations to facets of these interconnected issues.

Frydenberg’s ‘moral case’ for coal at odds with World Bank, UN and agencies
In making the case for the government’s reapproval of the Carmichael coalmine, Frydenberg invoked the lung-clogging pollution produced by the rudimentary wood, coal, petrol and dung-fired cooking stoves commonly used in the developing world. Australian coal, he said, offered salvation to some of the 2.6 billion people who currently live without access to safe cooking facilities.  But Frydenberg’s moral imperative for his country’s second-biggest export commodity rests specifically on reaching those currently living without electricity. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), which the minister quoted as an authority on energy poverty, centralised power sources such as coal rely on expensive grid infrastructure to deliver power. This means they are most useful in urban areas. But 84% of those living in energy poverty worldwide live outside cities. Of these, the IEA said less than a third were within cost-effective reach of an expanded grid.

Built Environment

Oslo moves to ban cars from city centre within four years
Oslo’s new leftist city government said Monday it wants to ban private cars from the city centre by 2019 as part of a plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions. The Labour Party and its allies the Socialist Left and the Green Party, winners of the 14 September municipal elections in the Norwegian capital, presented a platform focused on the environment and the fight against climate change.

World’s Best Solar Homes: See 14 Inspiring Student Designs
After Hurricane Sandy pummelled the New Jersey shore in 2012, college students took action. They designed and built a solar home that could survive fierce winds, produce electricity during blackouts and even allow neighbors to charge their electronics. A team from the Stevens Institute of Technology, based in Hoboken, N.J., took top honors at the Solar Decathlon 2015, a biennial contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy that ended Sunday in Irvine, California. Fourteen teams, representing 23 colleges from five countries, competed to build the most affordable, attractive, and efficient solar-powered home.

Auckland’s ticket to ride
Construction of Auckland’s most ambitious cycleway yet, a $40 million project from Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive, begins this week. A 7.3km pathway to be shared by pedestrians and cyclists will be built in four stages, starting with a section from Merton Rd in Glen Innes to St Johns Rd. That part of the joint project of Auckland Transport and the Transport Agency is due to open late next year, and the final spectacular leg of the route – across Hobson Bay to Tamaki Drive – by the end of 2018.

Food Systems

The race to fish: how fishing subsidies are emptying our oceans
Fish numbers are rapidly dwindling globally, and fishery subsidies are one of the key drivers behind this decline. In 2009, these subsidies totalled about US$35 billion, creating incentives for fishers around the world to increase their catch. But this short-term “race to fish” is jeopardising the long-term environmental, social, and economic security that fisheries offer us all. My group at the University of British Columbia recently cast our net into the troubling waters of fishery subsidies, to see how this ship might be turned around.

Longbush Free Range Pork expands farm to keep up with demand
NEW ZEALAND – A Wairarapa business is quickly becoming one of the most sought after pork suppliers in the region. Longbush Free Range Pork’s exceptional reputation for sustainable practice has increased demand for its pigs, which is outstripping supply at the farm. Owners Jeremy Wilhelm and Naya Brangenberg can only supply six top New Zealand chefs – including La Pancetta restaurant owner Rachel Priestley, who uses the pigs to produce cured Italian meats.


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