Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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The Great Barrier Reef: 93% hit by coral bleaching, surveys reveal
Scientists surveying the mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef say only 7 per cent of Australia’s environmental icon has been left untouched by the event. The final results of plane and helicopter surveys by scientists involved in the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce has found that of the 911 reefs they observed, just 68 had escaped any sign of bleaching.


Energy and Climate Change

‘Worse things in store’: Steaming hot world sets more temperature records
The Earth sizzled in March with the most unusually warm month in recorded history as average land surface temperatures easily exceeded levels deemed by scientists to constitute dangerous climate change. The abnormal weather has continued into April as the most powerful tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Indian Ocean dumped rain at rates reaching 300 mm an hour, and Australian scientists declared the worst coral bleaching event ever on the Great Barrier Reef.
See also: Hottest March in modern times, US scientific agency says

Community storage: A new way to cut grid 2.0 costs?
Energy storage is one of the hottest topics in the electricity industry today. As battery costs decline, many actors are recognizing the huge potential of storage to lower the cost of the grid and become a booming, multibillion-dollar market… Now, a promising new initiative launched by a coalition of industry stakeholders aims to promote the concept of “community storage” in utilities across the U.S. Community storage programs let utilities aggregate customer-owned, behind-the-meter resources such as water heaters, electric vehicles and batteries to provide services to the grid.

It takes a village: Why community energy is vital to a 100% renewable Australia
This week, a major new report from the Institute for Sustainable Futures in Sydney has detailed how Australia could transition to 100 per cent renewable electricity generation by 2030, and to 100 per cent renewable everything – including industry, heat and transport – by 2050. And all for a multi-billion dollar saving to the Australian economy.

Melbourne consortium releases tender for renewable energy bulk buy
AUSTRALIA – A consortium of businesses, councils, universities and cultural institutions in Melbourne have released a tender for a renewable energy plant from which it will directly buy 110 gigawatt-hours of energy, cutting 138,600 tonnes of CO2 a year. The Melbourne Renewable Energy Project, led by the City of Melbourne, includes Australia Post, NAB, the University of Melbourne, RMIT, NEXTDC, Zoos Victoria, the City of Port Phillip, Moreland City Council, the City of Yarra, Citywide, Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and Bank Australia.

BP Oil Spill Trashed More Shoreline Than Scientists Thought
The largest oil spill in U.S. history was even bigger than previously thought, at least in terms of the amount of coastline that was oiled, scientists report in a new study. The findings shed new light onto the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which began six years ago Wednesday.

Environment and Biodiversity

Exclusive Photos: Ten Remarkable Trees
This year’s Earth Day on April 22 celebrates trees, with the ambitious goal of planting 7.8 billion—one for every person on the planet—by 2020.
In tribute to the world’s 3.04 trillion trees, we present a gallery of exceptional examples. Some have witnessed remarkable events. Others have provided inspiration. Still others are venerated for their spiritual value. Each and every one has a special story to tell.  Though all trees have value that’s quantifiable—scientists at the University of California at Davis and the United States Forest Service, for example, calculated that New York City’s 600,000 street trees provide an annual benefit of $122 million in pollutant removal, carbon sequestration, and building energy reduction—these particular trees are, in a sense, priceless.

Like a living cathedral, the tree known as El Arbol del Tule, outside Oaxaca, Mexico, dwarfs the Church of the Assumption. The tree’s 50-foot (15-meter) diameter trunk supports branches the length of two tennis courts. In 1992, to mitigate the damage caused by car exhaust and a falling water table, the government rerouted the Pan-American Highway and approved a grant to dig a well for the tree.

Like a living cathedral, the tree known as El Arbol del Tule, outside Oaxaca, Mexico, dwarfs the Church of the Assumption. The tree’s 50-foot (15-meter) diameter trunk supports branches the length of two tennis courts. In 1992, to mitigate the damage caused by car exhaust and a falling water table, the government rerouted the Pan-American Highway and approved a grant to dig a well for the tree.
Photograph by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel, National Geographic

Antibiotics have saved millions of lives, but their misuse and overuse is making them less effective as bacteria develop resistance. Despite scientists’ warnings, antibiotic prescriptions in many countries continue to soar and antibiotic use in farming is at record levels. As a result, doctors are now seeing infections they can no longer treat. Are we facing the end of modern medicine? An antibiotic apocalypse that takes medicine back to the Dark Ages? Or will researchers outwit the incredibly clever bacteria and find novel ways to beat resistance?

As the planet warms, how do we decide when a plant is native?
Among the plants that survive on the family property where Dickinson confined herself for much of her adult life are picturesque old trees called umbrella magnolias (Magnolia tripetala) — so named because their leaves, which can reach two feet long, radiate out from the ends of branches like the spokes of an umbrella. The trees, believed to have been planted by Emily’s brother Austin, have jumped the garden gate in recent decades and established wild populations not far from the poet’s home. This new location is a couple of hundred miles north of the tree’s native range, centered in the sheltered woods and ravines of the Appalachian Mountains, and is the first evidence that native plant horticulture in the United States “is giving some species a head-start on climate change,” according to Smith College biologist Jesse Bellemare.

More than 1,000 species have been moved due to human impact
More than 1,000 species have had to be relocated because of climate change, poaching and humans taking their habitat, according to a top conservationist. Dr Axel Moehrenschlager said cases of “translocation”, such as India’s plan to relocate tigers to Cambodia or South Africa’s scheme to airlift rhinos to Australia, have increased exponentially in recent decades and will become more common due to human pressures driving species closer to extinction.

80 Rats Exploded Into 100,000 by Avoiding Poison
The rats didn’t seem to have a prayer. After years of meticulous planning, helicopters flew over a South Pacific atoll in 2011 and scattered 80 tons of toothsome cereal pellets, each loaded with a lethal dose of rat poison. At first, the two-million-dollar rat eradication project on Henderson Island seemed to be working. The invasive rodents that had been gnawing on baby birds and sea turtles dwindled dramatically, with the island population down to just 60 to 80 individuals a few weeks after the bait drop. Today, though, that atoll is once again overrun with rats. In just a few years, the survivors multiplied to 50,000 to 100,000—the same number as before the poisoning.

Hidden housemates: when possums go bump in the night
AUSTRALIA – You’re drifting off to sleep when, suddenly, there’s a bump and a thump and an unearthly shriek. But never fear, if your home is making these noises you probably don’t have ghosts, but a family of common brushtail possums… Common brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) live across much of suburban Australia. Although often associated with bushland environments and commonly considered a tree-dweller, these adaptable creatures are also highly attracted to human houses.

Animals Like Green Space in Cities—and That’s a Problem
The Thurgood Marshall Federal Judiciary Building in Washington, D.C., had a bird problem.  The animals were trying to fly into the building’s atrium, hitting the glass around it, and dying. People found about five dead birds a week in front of the building, according to city officials.  Turned out there was a simple solution: keeping the lights off at night. This kind of friction between humans and animals in cities is common.

Weekly Dose: St John’s Wort, the flower that can treat depression
St John’s Wort, botanical name Hypericum perforatum, is considered a weed in temperate climates outside its native homelands of Europe, Asia and North Africa. The flowering tops and aerial parts of the plant are used medicinally in the form of tinctures and tablets to treat a number of conditions affecting the nervous and immune systems.

Economy and Business

Can ‘The Paris Effect’ Take Companies, Governments Beyond Flagship Initiatives?
This April 22, world leaders will convene to sign the Paris Climate Agreement. The international regulatory environment and national policies to curb emissions are reshaping global markets. Decarbonization could define the 21st century economy. But what do these changes mean for businesses?

RBS hits £1bn milestone for green loans
The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has doubled its financial lending to sustainable energy projects, with more than 400 small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) acting as benefactors of a £1bn lending spree from the bank in 2015.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Microbeads, single-use plastic bags to be recommended for ban by Senate pollution inquiry
AUSTRALIA – A Senate committee will call for an immediate ban on microbeads and for single-use plastic bags to be off-limits nationwide to try and reduce pollution. The ABC understands the bans would be high on the list of recommendations from an inquiry into the threat of marine plastic pollution in Australia. The report, due to be handed down this week, will call on all states and territories to ban single-use plastic bags and suggest the Federal Government steps in if they do not.

New report outlines vision for circular Amsterdam
A new report produced by Circle Economy, TNO and Fabric has taken a deep dive into the circular economy opportunities for the city of Amsterdam, finding potential economic value creation of €85 million per year, over 700 additional jobs and significant CO2 reductions.

Politics and Society

The 5 biggest shifts since the Paris climate talks
Gauging the trickle-down effects of high-level international policy is never easy. That’s especially true with a hulking global issue such as climate change, which consistently has been pushed down the laundry list of challenges facing the planet… While much of the heavy lifting remains to be done, several significant indicators suggest that expediting clean energy deployment, bringing the private sector on board with climate action and hashing out who pays for climate adaptation (finally) are starring on the global stage.

Palm oil politics impede sustainability in Southeast Asia
Indonesia and Malaysia are at the centre of the world’s decades-long palm oil boom. Between them the two countries have planted more than 15 million hectares of oil palm, employ about 4 million workers, and produce 84% of the world’s palm oil. It is the biggest and fastest rural transformation the countries have seen.

EU dropped climate policies after BP threat of oil industry ‘exodus’
The EU abandoned or weakened key proposals for new environmental protections after receiving a letter from a top BP executive which warned of an exodus of the oil industry from Europe if the proposals went ahead. In the 10-page letter, the company predicted in 2013 that a mass industry flight would result if laws to regulate tar sands, cut power plant pollution and accelerate the uptake of renewable energy were passed, because of the extra costs and red tape they allegedly entailed.

If Bottled Water Is So Bad, Why Are Sales Hitting Records?
Bottled water is poised to become the king of beverages in the United States. Despite the fact that more than a dozen colleges have banned sale of bottled water at campus dining facilities, that sales of bottled water are banned at 22 U.S. national parks—including the Grand Canyon and Zion—and that half a dozen cities have banned use of official funds to purchase bottled water, sales in 2015 hit an all-time high.

Fracking plans cause concern in WA ‘food basket’ Dandaragan
Farmers in the fertile farmlands of Dandaragan in Western Australia’s Mid West are taking on the unconventional gas industry, saying the area should be out of bounds to frackers. The area has been earmarked as a possible agriculture hotspot under the WA Government’s $40 million Water for Food program. However it is also covered by a gas exploration permit held by Perth-based company Transerv Energy.

More than half US population lives amid dangerous air pollution, report warns
More than half of the US population lives amid potentially dangerous air pollution, with national efforts to improve air quality at risk of being reversed, a new report has warned. A total of 166 million Americans live in areas that have unhealthy levels of of either ozone or particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association, raising their risk of lung cancer, asthma attacks, heart disease, reproductive problems and other ailments.

Built Environment

A prefab approach for a Passivhaus deep retrofit
A British company has developed a prefabricated deep retrofit kit that aims to get homes to Passivhaus standard. The kits involve a wrap-around solution for an existing building that also includes ventilation to ensure good air quality and, because it uses off-site construction, the upgrade process can take as little as three weeks and means occupants do not have to move out during the upgrade.

Scientists sniff out vehicle emissions
German scientists have developed a smart way to investigate the emissions coming out of vehicles on the road. The Volkswagen scandal underlined the inadequacy of standard lab tests which do not reflect the exhausts produced when driving in the real world. But the University of Heidelberg team is now getting more reliable data by following behind city cars and buses to “sniff” their tailpipe gases.

Food Systems

Can we feed the world and stop deforestation? Depends what’s for dinner
It’s a tricky thing to grow enough food for a ballooning population without destroying the natural world. And when I say a tricky thing, I mean it’s one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced. Luckily for us, it is theoretically possible, and the easiest way to get there is by drastically cutting down on meat.
See also: Diet key to feeding the world in 2050 without further deforestation, modelling suggests

New Research from MorningStar Farms, WRI Illustrates Environmental Benefits of Eating Less Meat
This week, both the World Resources Institute (WRI) and MorningStar Farms — producer of veggie burgers, sausages and other faux meat items beloved by vegetarians across the U.S. — have unveiled research asserting that the averageAmerican could cut their diet-related environmental impacts by nearly half just by eating less meat and dairy. WRI’s Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future presents solutions to the challenge of feeding a growing population by reducing animal protein consumption, especially beef, and helping shift billions of people to more sustainable diets.


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