Sustainable Development News

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

Pesticides linked to bee decline for first time in a countrywide field study
A new study provides the first evidence of a link between neonicotinoid pesticides and escalating honeybee colony losses on a landscape level. The study found the increased use of a pesticide, which is linked to causing serious harm in bees worldwide, as a seed treatment on oilseed rape in England and Wales over an 11 year period correlated with higher bee mortality during that time. The research, published in Nature scientific reports on Thursday, combined large-scale pesticide usage and yield observations from oilseed rape with data on honeybee loses between 2000 and 2010.

Energy and Climate Change

EU calls for urgency in ‘seriously lagging’ Paris climate talks
With 100 days to go until the Paris climate summit, the EU’s climate chief has warned that progress in thrashing out a draft negotiating text is proceeding too slowly and urgently needs to be stepped up. Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU’s climate commissioner, said that the 85-page draft agreement currently being poured over by diplomats still contains far too many bracketed options that need to be rapidly narrowed.

Two degrees or four? It’s a personal choice for survival in the near future (Comment)
Four degrees. It doesn’t sound like a lot. Four degrees is the difference between a spring day and early summer, right? It’s almost nothing. Wrong. Four degrees, as an earth-surface average, is the difference between a full-on ice age like the one at the end of the Pleistocene and now. It’s also the difference between now and a future where the northern half of Australia is over 40°C half the year, and 80 per cent of Australia – including Adelaide, Perth and most cropping land across three states – has over 40 days over 40 degrees a year. (In 1990 this was less than 10 per cent). You know what 40°C feels like. At 40 you start to feel you’re being cooked. Imagine a week of it monthly, from September to March. Imagine what that will mean for food supply. Water. Schools. Disease.

India’s Adani in talks with Softbank, Foxconn on $US3 billion solar plan
India’s Adani Group is in talks with Japan’s Softbank and Foxconn, maker of Apple’s iPhone, to secure investment in a $US3 billion ($4.1 billion) project to make solar cells and panels in the country, two sources with knowledge of the matter said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government expects clean energy to yield business worth $US160 billion in India in the next five years, based on the country’s power generation targets. Softbank, Foxconn and Bharti Enterprises have already pledged to invest about $US20 billion in solar projects in India. A new deal with Adani, one of the country’s largest conglomerates, would boost Modi’s efforts to promote manufacturing and create sorely needed jobs.

Time to tap in to an underused energy source: wasted heat
Millions of people worldwide can’t afford to keep their homes warm, but few realise the heat wasted in our energy system could provide the answer. We need to do more to prevent valuable energy being lost to the environment as heat. It’s not just draughty buildings – power stations lose a vast amount of heat through their cooling towers or dumped into waterways, equivalent in the UK to a third of final energy use, while UK industry wastes enough heat to warm more than two million households. Storing this heat can even help us manage renewable energy – at lower cost than batteries.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Wellcome Trust loses millions as its fossil fuel investments plunge in value
The Wellcome Trust’s investments in fossil fuel companies have lost an estimated £175m in the last year, due to sharp falls in share prices. Research by the Guardian shows the medical charity has sold off two-thirds of its holding in Shell but also increased its investment in the fastest falling of its stocks, mining giant BHP Billiton, by 8%. The Wellcome Trust is the world’s second-biggest non-governmental funder of medical research but has been the focus of a Guardian campaign asking the Trust to sell its fossil fuel investments, which today stand at an estimated £370m.

Environment and Biodiversity

Diving for treasure to help protect the world’s great reefs
Diving the warm, crystal clear waters of Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Marine Park is an experience for the lucky few. Its coral reefs attract a huge variety of marine life, including turtles, manta rays and countless species of tropical fish – including the now iconic clownfish. If you’ve gone diving there recently, or are planning a holiday, you may have noticed that the marine park fees have gone up sharply in past 12 months – as they have in many other parts of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. But you might actually be happy to discover why.

Tanzania turns a blind eye to poaching as elephant populations tumble
For tour guides in Tanzania, the results of a continental elephant census showing that the country had lost two-thirds of its herd in five years and become Africa’s ivory trading hub came as no surprise.  They’d tried to prevent tourists from seeing the melting skins and drying bones littering the Selous ecosystem in southern Tanzania for years. But they couldn’t mask the shots heard from safari camps in a reserve once known as “the elephant capital of the world”. Last year it was named in the journal Science as Africa’s poaching hotspot, and a Unesco world heritage in danger site… As people cried foul over Cecil, a 13-year-old lion shot to fame by a holidaying Minnesotan dentist in Zimbabwe, the slaughter of five elephants by Tanzanian poachers in Kenya’s Tsavo park passed almost silently.

Critically endangered takahe shot in case of mistaken identity
NEW ZEALAND – Members from the Deerstalkers Association have shot four critically endangered takahe while carrying out a cull of pukeko on Motutapu Island in the Hauraki Gulf. The deaths have forced the Department of Conservation to put an immediate halt to the culling operations near the threatened species. The island is a protected, pest-free haven for endangered bird species and 20 of the critically endangered birds were relocated to the island after it was declared pest-free in 2011. Prior to the shooting incident, Motutapu Island had a population of 21 takahe. The birds, which were discovered by DOC staff on the island sanctuary earlier this week, were killed by shotgun pellets.

Survey launched to save declining bee colonies
NEW ZEALAND – A national survey of beekeepers will provide a “starting point” to explore the potential causes of colony losses.  Landcare Research, which will conduct the survey, says there has been a surge in unexplained colony losses despite hive numbers increasing in New Zealand in recent years. Diseases, pests, pesticides, starvation and overstocking have been blamed, but the evidence is largely anecdotal. The country’s first colony loss and survival survey started this week.

Is the digestive system a ‘second brain’?
It’s an idea that dates back more than 2,000 years, when renowned Greek physician Hippocrates said that ‘all disease begins in the gut’. In fact, up until a couple of centuries ago, the brain and the body were considered an entirely integrated whole. But with modern medicine’s proclivity for reductionism, the two entities have in recent times been seen as mostly distinct from one another. According to David Perlmutter, author of the New York Times bestselling book Brain Maker, this separation is absurd.

Economy and Business

A hungrier, wealthier, choosier, smarter, riskier world: five challenges for Australian agriculture
You don’t need a crystal ball to know Australia’s rural industries will face significant change at global, national and local levels over the coming decades. This will create opportunities and challenges for small and large farms, and will affect rural lifestyles, agricultural landscapes and Australia’s society and economy. In a new report, we describe this future through a series of interlinked “megatrends” set to hit Australia over the coming 20 years. As we describe below, each prompts some serious questions (or “conversation-starters”, as we have termed them) for Australian farmers. We don’t yet know the answers, but we do know they will be crucial for how the industry fares in the future.

Elon Musk’s Brave New World: it worked for Henry Ford; why not Tesla?The share price of Tesla Motors shot up this week after a financial analyst said that the electric vehicle maker is “uniquely positioned to dominate” the auto industry. Is Tesla, with its tightly integrated supply chain, following the strategy of another one-time dominant automaker – the Ford Motor Company – of over 100 years ago? Can it revolutionize the world by making an affordable electric car for the masses, much the way Henry Ford did with the Model T in 1908? Henry Ford took control of his supply chain and made his own parts rather than buy from suppliers, which gave the company the scale needed to improve performance and lower costs. Now Musk is building a new “giga” battery factory, giving Tesla more control over this strategic component. Will it work out the same as for Ford?

What will it take to make Amazon a great place to work?
Amazon’s reputation has taken a hit this week, thanks to a feature in Sunday’s New York Times that outlines several burnout-inducing practices and attitudes that seem hardwired into the company’s executive work culture. Despite a rapid and defiant response from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the article generated roughly 5000 comments, some from other alleged employees. It has also generated a flurry of negative attention from other journalists, such as the Guardian’s Stuart Heritage and USA Today’s Jefferson Graham, who have both pledged a personal boycott of the company’s products and services in light of the recent revelations.

Origin aims to be No.1 in solar, but has a long way to travel
AUSTRLAIA – Origin Energy has given a bullish estimate of rooftop solar deployment in coming years, and repeated its ambition to be No. 1 in the solar market, but its latest figures show just how far it needs to travel to meet that target. Origin this year rolled out its first solar power purchase agreement products, where it builds, owns and maintains rooftop solar installations and charges a rate to the homeowner. In Queensland, and for those with 15-year contracts, it is as low as 11c/kWh.

Politics and Society

Climate change is so dire we need a new kind of science fiction to make sense of it
Build an imaginary world in your mind, hanging in space. Spin it around a bit; kick the tires. Now change one thing about that world. Throw a bug of your choice into the machine. What if the oceans reclaim your coastal cities? What if you can’t support life? What if the life you bear can’t support you? Ponder the answer, and you’ll create what the critic Robert Scholes has called “radical discontinuity,” the cognitive dissonance that allows science fiction to explore the most pressing concerns of its age. For our age – the Anthropocene, the proposed geologic epoch defined by human impact – the discontinuities are clear. The question is not if we will change the planet but when, and how existing changes will render it unrecognizable. The stories we tell ourselves can help us understand, and maybe even adapt, to this new world.

BP lobbied against EU support for clean energy to favour gas, documents reveal
The fossil fuel giant BP helped spur a concerted industry push to curb EU policy support for renewable energies such as wind and solar in favour of gas, the Guardian has learned. The European commission last year outlawed most subsidies for clean energy from 2017, and ended nationally-binding renewable targets after 2020, despite opposition from environmentalists and clean energy firms. The policy decisions were however requested by BP, Shell, Statoil and Total, and by trade associations representing a plethora of oil and gas majors.

Adani mine a $20b project creating 10,000 jobs? The Abbott government’s myths busted
When it comes to Australia’s largest coal mine, the Abbott government has a difficult relationship with the truth. If you haven’t heard, Australia is under siege from a new kind of eco-warrior, one with a manual and money for legal challenges designed to endlessly frustrate economic development. At the centre of this battle is the proposed Carmichael coal mine in Queensland. The mega mine, led by Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, has had its federal environmental approval set aside. Why? Because a Queensland environment group – the Mackay Conservation Group – exercised its legal rights and used a federal court challenge to expose a flaw in the government’s assessment of that project. The government now wants to remove those legal rights and hinder the ability of green groups to access the courts.

Govt looks to remove section of environment law, critics say it’s a step backwards for courts and the environment
The Federal Government has revealed the details of its plan to remove a section of the nation’s environmental protection law. The Environment Minister says axing Section 487 will stop environmental activists from disrupting and delaying key development projects, such as the Adani coal mine in Queensland. But opponents say the change is a big step backwards for environmental protection and legal clarity in Australia. In any case, the amendments seem doomed to fail in the Senate.

Abbot Point: Third draft of Environmental Impact Statement proposes spoil from dredging be disposed of on land and re-used
The Queensland Government has released the third draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) into the controversial Abbot Point port expansion near Bowen in the state’s north. The expansion will enable coal to be shipped from proposed mining projects in the Galilee Basin, like the $16 billion Carmichael mine… “This development is 19 kilometres from the nearest coral community and the disposal will avoid direct impacts to the marine environment” and “work will only begin when environmental approvals have been received,” State Development, Natural Resources and Mines Minister Anthony Lynham said. The dredging is within Great Barrier Reef waters.

FactCheck Q&A: was Katy Faust correct on same-sex family studies and kids’ rights?
The Conversation has recently FactChecked claims that children do best when they have a mother and a father. As that FactCheck shows, the overwhelming body of scientific research suggests that children develop well when growing up with same-sex attracted parents. As evidence to support her views around traditional marriage, Faust points to the widely criticised New Families Structures Study by US researcher Mark Regnerus. Instead of showing that children with heterosexual parents are doing better than children in same-sex parent families, this research compares children from disrupted, unstable families (where parents may have had a same-sex experience at some time) to very stable families where children have been raised from birth by the same two parents.

Built Environment

Google’s ‘Project Sunroof’ Calculates the Cost of Solar
Google is testing a new online tool to help homeowners explore whether they should go solar, according to a recent blog post by the search giant. Now available in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fresno and the Boston area, Project Sunroof utilizes the same high-resolution aerial mapping used by Google Earth to help homeowners calculate their roof’s solar energy potential, right from their laptop or smartphone. Homeowners within the test regions need only to enter their address and Project Sunroof will crunch the numbers, Google said in the post.

Rebuilding New Orleans into America’s finest water city
In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita flooded coastal areas of the US Gulf Coast. Katrina alone flooded up to 80% of New Orleans. Tragically, a total of around 2,000 people lost their lives, while more than 2 million residents were evacuated. The economic impact of the crisis has been estimated at some $150bn (£96bn). In the words of the then US secretary of homeland security Michael Chertoff, it was “probably the worst catastrophe or set of catastrophes” in US history. A decade on, a new New Orleans is slowly emerging after years of painstaking planning and effort. At the heart of this is an integrated and comprehensive water management system which has the potential to transform the city into America’s leading water urban settlement.

World-Class Auckland: More protection needed for urban trees
NEW ZEALAND – An environmental group fears a “chainsaw massacre” will fall upon Auckland’s dwindling number of urban trees if more protection isn’t urgently put in place. But Auckland Council says changes made to the Resource Management Act (RMA) two years ago has been stopping it from re-introducing general tree protection removed with the amendments. A schedule in the Proposed Auckland Unitary Plan would afford protection for about 15 per cent of all urban trees, and concentrated on protecting notable (scheduled) trees, trees on the coast and near streams and Significant Ecological Areas.

NZ government backs cycling, electric vehicles and rail to cut emissions
The New Zealand government is allocating substantial funding and resources towards achieving its goal of cutting per capita greenhouse gas emissions from transport to half 2007 levels by 2040.  Measures include support for electric vehicle uptake, funds for rail electrification and a $100 million Urban Cycleways fund to support 54 projects across the country announced by Minister for Transport Simon Bridges in June this year. “This will generate an overall investment of $333 million in urban cycling infrastructure, which is the single biggest investment in cycling in New Zealand’s history,” Mr Bridges said.

Citizen scientists illuminate a flurry of night time urban wildlife in Launceston suburbs
AUSTRALIA – A citizen science project has shed some light on the number of animals wandering Launceston’s suburbs with some surprising results. The Environment Institute of Australia and New Zealand (EIANZ) launched the project earlier this year to get a better idea of how much wildlife was active in the city at night. EIANZ Tasmania president Kathryn Pugh said she had been working with local volunteers who set up surveillance cameras in their backyards.


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