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Tuesday 20 September 2016

Sustainable Development News

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

Invasive predators are eating the world’s animals to extinction – and the worst is close to home
Invasive species are a threat to wildlife across the globe – and invasive, predatory mammals are particularly damaging. Our research, recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that these predators – cats, rats and foxes, but also house mice, possums and many others – have contributed to around 60% of bird, mammal and reptile extinctions. The worst offenders are feral cats, contributing to over 60 extinctions. So how can we stop these mammals eating away at our threatened wildlife?

Energy and Climate Change

Canada prepares to introduce nationwide carbon price
Canada’s Liberal government will move to impose a national carbon price if the country’s provinces fail to take adequate steps to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has said. Speaking yesterday on national politics TV show Question Period, McKenna said the new emissions regime will be implemented next month and will act as a “backstop” for provinces that do not regulate their own emissions effectively.

New study undercuts favorite climate myth ‘more CO2 is good for plants’ | Dana Nuccitelli
A new study by scientists at Stanford University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tested whether hotter temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels that we’ll see post-2050 will benefit the kinds of plants that live in California grasslands. They found that carbon dioxide at higher levels than today (400 ppm) did not significantly change plant growth, while higher temperatures had a negative effect.

Solar power sector handed huge boost by ARENA funding
Australia is set to triple its large-scale solar energy capacity after funding from a threatened federal agency helped drive down costs almost to those of wind farms. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced the 12 projects that will share part of its latest funding round of $92 million on Thursday… The plants will generate about one-tenth of the power needed to meet Australia’s 2020 Renewable Energy Target, supply enough electricity for 150,000 average homes and create 2,300 direct jobs alone, ARENA said.
[Ed: Note: For context, this article was published Sept 8, before the $500m funding cut to ARENA by government]

JetBlue Makes One of the Largest Renewable Jet Fuel Purchases in Aviation History
JetBlue today announced a ten-year renewable jet fuel purchase agreement with bioenergy company SG Preston, for jet fuel made from rapidly renewable, bio-based feedstocks that do not compete with food production. This marks one of the largest renewable jet fuel purchase agreements in aviation history, and the largest, long-term, binding commitment by any airline globally for HEFA (hydro-processed esters and fatty acids)-based renewable jet fuel.

Can Reusing Spent Nuclear Fuel Solve Our Energy Problems?
Nuclear power, always controversial, has been under an especially dark cloud since Japan’s Fukushima disaster five years ago. And in the United States, few new nuclear plants have been ordered since the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, thanks to ongoing safety concerns, high capital costs, and the availability of lower-cost energy sources. But nuclear engineer Leslie Dewan believes that a safe, environmentally friendly, next-generation nuclear reactor isn’t just feasible—it’s commercially viable.

What off-grid countries can teach us about clean power
More electricity  is coming to the rural Global South, bit by bit, as renewable projects light up remote villages and hospitals, individual huts and large water treatment plants. There are 1.2 billion people estimated not long ago to live without electricity. But electrification isn’t arriving in these rural swatch of the globe the way it did in the richer countries of the north. That playbook was thrown out, for the most part. Instead, just as telephony spread to the far reaches of the globe because of adoption of untethered cell phones, electricity is arriving in remote areas often in the form of standalone micro-grids of solar or wind generating devices connected to inverters and storage.

Environment and Biodiversity

The silencing of the seas: how our oceans are going quiet
Despite appearances, the oceans are far from silent places. If you dunk your head underwater you’ll hear a cacophony of sounds from wildlife great and small, crashing waves, and even rain. And it’s louder still for creatures attuned to these sounds. However, humans are changing these ocean soundscapes. Our recent research showed that changes caused by people, from ocean acidification to pollution, are silencing the seas’ natural noises. (We’re also filling the oceans with human noise). This is bad news for the species that depend on these noises to find their way.

Learn more about marine soundscapes watching this video.

Climate change could shrink habitat of 90pc of Australia’s eucalypt species
A team of researchers studied more than 650 species of eucalypts across Australia to see what would happen to the trees as the country’s climate warmed by 3 degrees Celsius…. The research, published in Nature Climate Change, is based on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s intermediate emissions scenario, where emissions peak in 2060 and reach 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100. While a handful of species would increase their habitat range, distribution of more than 90 per cent of eucalypt species would shrink in size by an average of 50 per cent in the next 60 years.

An American tragedy: why are millions of trees dying across the country?
JB Friday hacked at a rain-sodden tree with a small axe, splitting open a part of the trunk. The wood was riven with dark stripes, signs of a mysterious disease that has ravaged the US’s only rainforests – and just one of the plagues that are devastating American forests across the west. Friday, a forest ecologist at the University of Hawaii, started getting calls from concerned landowners in Puna, which is on the eastern tip of Hawaii’s big island, in 2010. Their seemingly ubiquitous ohi’a trees were dying at an astonishing rate. The leaves would turn yellow, then brown, over just a few weeks – a startling change for an evergreen tree.

Forests in Colombia fall victim to illegal coca plantations
In Colombia, 111 hectares of forest are cleared each day, the country’s Anti-Narcotics Division of the Colombian National Police report. Of the country’s 59 national parks, 16 are affected by forest loss as a result of illicit crops. According to an official with Colombia’s national parks agency, a recent increase in illicit coca crops in national parks is due to “the occupation of settlers, who do not earn an income, [and for that reason] find the parks attractive.”

Deforestation in Paramillo National Natural Park in Córdoba department. Overflight in the park. Photo courtesy of SIMCI / UNODC

Deforestation in Paramillo National Natural Park in Córdoba department. Overflight in the park. Photo courtesy of SIMCI / UNODC

‘Let mangroves recover’ to protect coasts
Allowing mangrove forests to recover naturally result in more resilient habitats that benefit both wildlife and people, say conservationists. In Indonesia, a Wetlands International project uses permeable dams to restore sediment needed for the trees to grow. The charity says early results suggest “ecological restoration” is more effective than planting programmes.

Silverlining squandered as Astrolabe reef decimated again after Rena
NEW ZEALAND – The regeneration of the Astrolabe Reef was the one silverlining of the Rena disaster that saw the container ship and cargo vessel stuck fast on the reef in October 2011 while it took a shortcut to get to the Port of Tauranga. With an exclusion zone placed around the ship so salvaging could take place, the reef effectively became a marine reserve and sea life could thrive with out the usual pressures of fishing. But that protection stopped in April 2016 when access to the reef was restored for vessels under 500 tonnes, in spite of an urgent request by the Motiti Rohe Moana Trust, on behalf of Nga Hapu o te Moutere o Motiti for a two year temporary closure of the reef to all fishing.

Business and Economy

The VERGE Ecosystem Map
Sometimes you’ve got to step back to take in the big picture. We’ve just done that with the ecosystem we call VERGE, the convergence of technologies that address and accelerate sustainability solutions, from a clean-powered grid to connected and efficient transportation, to sustainable and affordable food. It is a large and complex world, and challenging at times to describe in its fullest.


Waste and the Circular Economy

Expedition to study scale of microplastics on Atlantic’s smallest creatures
Scientists will set off from the east coast of England this week to journey thousands of miles across the Atlantic to discover how bad the problem of the oceans’ tiniest creatures eating microplastics has become. Zooplankton are essential for the marine food web right up to the fish we eat, and are known to be more likely to die and be worse at reproduction after eating the minuscule pieces of plastic.

New French law legislates that all plastic cups, plates and cutlery must be biodegradable
All plastic cups, cutlery and plates will need to be designed to be compostable in France according to a new law, which comes into effect in 2020. The recently passed legislation has already ignited some debate in terms of what it means within the EU context. At the very least it represents a significant piece of policy in the broader conversation around plastics, the need for more consistency and the growth of an effective after-use economy.

Mystery solved: hundreds of pelican deaths explained, EPA says
AUSTRALIA – The New South Wales Environmental Protection Authority says storm water toxins and algae are behind hundreds of pelican deaths on the State’s Central Coast. The EPA launched its investigation more than a year ago after ongoing concerns by a local pelican researcher about the unexplained loss of the birds at Blackwall near Woy Woy since 2014. The Authority has concluded that blue-green algae and other stormwater toxins were the most likely cause of the deaths.

Politics and Society

Can an app help us find mindfulness in today’s busy high-tech world?
With the release of the latest Apple Watch this month came a new Breathe app which promises to “help you better manage everyday stress”. Giving mindful breathing a place beside the alarm clock and weather app seems to prove mindfulness has truly gone mainstream. But modern society is still strongly oriented in the opposite direction: toward speed, efficiency and multitasking. Take the tagline for the Apple watch: “Do more in an instant.”

Walking the tightrope: What I learned reporting for GreenBiz
When I started my internship with GreenBiz, I assumed that once I learned the terminology, reporting on the business of sustainability would be a proverbial walk in the park. Besides, I supposed I knew the basics of sustainability reporting: Climate change is bad; we’re running out of water; and companies need to be more green. After my first week at GreenBiz, I realized how mistaken I was. I soon learned the business of sustainability is a vastly important and underreported segment of the corporate world, and reporting on it is no easy task. I began feeling as if I tremulously were walking a tightrope, grasping to keep my balance above tireless public relation specialists on one side and vociferous environmentalists on the other.

The government just decided the future of California’s desert, and solar companies aren’t happy
After eight years of work, federal land managers Wednesday finalized a sweeping plan apportioning nearly 11 million publicly owned acres of the California desert among different uses — including recreation, conservation, and the development of renewable energy projects. And while the decision by the Bureau of Land Management largely satisfied some stakeholders — particularly conservationists who have been battling to protect iconic species that inhabit this ecosystem like the desert tortoise and bighorn sheep — clean energy interests protested upon learning that only 388,000 acres would be explicitly set aside for renewable energy. That’s the same amount of area as in an earlier draft of the plan that these groups had strongly criticized.

Owners of Chinese ship that ran aground on Great Barrier Reef agree to pay $39.3m
The federal government has reached a $39.3m out-of-court settlement with the owners of a Chinese coal carrier that ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef in 2010. Shenzhen Energy Transport Co Ltd and its insurer had, for six years, refused to accept responsibility for restitution after the 225m long, fully laden Shen Neng 1 ran aground 100km east of Rockhampton at Douglas Shoal.

The New Commune: Why the property industry needs to radically rethink housing
AUSTRALIA – Katy Svalbe challenges property developers and funders to completely rethink the current real estate paradigm, in response to escalating demand for affordable homes, greater connection, shared spaces and community.

Call for moratorium on all seabed mining amid ‘secretive’ application
NEW ZEALAND – A 6000-strong petition calling for a moratorium on all seabed mining has been delivered to politicians, amid concerns over secrecy in a renewed bid to mine off Taranaki’s south coast. Hundreds of pages have been blacked out in Trans Tasman Resources’ (TTR) application to mine iron ore from an area covering 66 square kilometres.  TTR has applied for the second time in as many years to the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to mine 50 million tonnes of sand from the seabed off the coast of Patea in South Taranaki, extract the iron ore from it using a giant magnet, and then put 44 million tonnes back.

See also:

Built Environment

Gold Coast light rail study helps put a figure on value capture’s funding potential
AUSTRALIA – Value capture actually can work when it comes to funding new transport infrastructure. My research on the Gold Coast light rail provides the figures to demonstrate the size of the gains to nearby land values, which were around 25% of the A$1.2 billion capital cost in stage one of the project. Value capture is the idea that new transport infrastructure can be financed, or at least partly, by increases in land value around the project.

‘World-first’ solar car under development in Queensland could cost owners $250,000
AUSTRALIA – A Queensland racing and research team is moving to become the world’s first manufacturer of solar cars requiring road registration. It will cost more than $250,000 — and it may not even come with air-conditioning. Clenergy Team Arrow founder Cameron Tuesley said the prototype vehicle being built for next year’s World Solar Challenge would be used to develop a model for commercial purposes.

Food Systems

How Google is helping to crack down on illegal fishing — from space
Illegal and unreported fishing is a multibillion-dollar business around the globe, and one that has proven notoriously difficult to combat. In part, that’s because it involves a constant stream of renegade fishermen being pursued by countries that have only limited resources to carry out a perpetual cat-and-mouse game on the high seas. But a new satellite-based surveillance system powered by Google, which will be publicly unveiled Thursday at a global oceans conference at the State Department, aims to help alter that equation.

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