Sustainable Development News

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

Goodies v baddies? Why labelling wild animals as ‘pests’ or ‘friends’ is holding farming back
It’s hard to keep wild animals out of farms. Birds, mammals and insects all affect crop yields, in positive ways (such as flies pollinating flowers) and negative ones (such as when birds damage fruit). Agricultural research and management programs often deal with these interactions by focusing on simplistic “good” and “bad” labels: aphids are annoying pests, for example, whereas bees are little angels. In reality, however, no animal is 100% a “goodie” or “baddie” – their effects on crop production vary with context.

Energy and Climate Change

Fire sparks concerns over lack of standards on battery storage
AUSTRALIA – Images of an “exploded” lithium-ion battery storage device in a household garage in Victoria have been doing the rounds of social media, highlighting the risks and the lack of formal standards in a technology that is expected to be at the heart of a booming billion dollar industry in Australia…  the stark fact is that there are no official standards setting the rules and guidelines for new battery storage chemistries such as lithium ion in Australia, and there may not be for another three to five years.

February was the warmest month in recorded history, climate experts say
With the current El Niño weather event only now beginning to tail off, meteorologists believe that this year is destined to be the hottest on record, warmer even than 2015. Nor is this jump in global temperature a freak triggered by an unusually severe El Niño, say researchers. “It is the opposite,” said Professor David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey.

Record-breaking autumn temperatures points to a hotter future, environmentalists warn
Record-breaking hot weather across Australia in autumn could have long-ranging consequences, the Climate Council says, with warmer conditions set to continue. In the first week of March, temperatures in parts of south-eastern Australia were 12 degrees Celsius warmer than average, the report titled The Heat Marches On said.

Warmer Winters Will Mean Catastrophic Effects For The Environment And Human Life
“In the more than 30 years I’ve been a meteorologist, I’ve always enjoyed sitting down each day and taking a look at the latest computer model forecasts of the weather for the upcoming ten days,’’ said Jeff Masters, director of meteorology for the site Weather Underground. “That pleasure began becoming tinged with anxiety beginning in 2010, when we seemingly crossed a threshold into a new more extreme climate regime. The relatively stable climate of the 20th Century that I grew up with is no more.’’

Plant carbon dioxide may not make global warming worse, study suggests
Plants may be better at acclimatising to rising temperatures and contribute less to carbon dioxide in a warming world than some have previously thought, a new study suggests. “Maybe some of our models are over-predicting the degree to which plant respiration will cause accelerating feedback that speeds up climate change,” said Professor Peter Reich, an ecologist and plant physiologist from the University of Minnesota who led the study published today in Nature.

Environment and Biodiversity

Coral bleaching event near Lizard Island set to worsen, marine expert ‘ashamed’, ‘upset’
The coral bleaching threat level on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is expected to increase next week, with marine experts saying it is already at its worst. University of Queensland marine researcher Professor Justin Marshall, who has been visiting the reef for 30 years, said the bleaching in the northern section of the World Heritage Area was the worst he had ever seen. “I’m yet to see a healthy coral [near Lizard Island], there’s no coral that hasn’t been bleached,” he said. “I’m very worried I’m witnessing the death of a very large part of this reef system. I’m extremely worried and upset. I used to bring my kids here, I’d be ashamed to bring them here now to be honest.”
See also: Barrier Reef coral bleaching threat level increased, Greg Hunt announces funding for survey

Tasmanian forests escape axe
AUSTRALIA – Tasmania’s government has abandoned plans to selectively log its Wilderness World Heritage Area after UNESCO recommended against it. But in a final report released last night, UNESCO advised against the plan. The government had no obligation to abide by the report, but said it would.

Tasmanian World Heritage areas deserve better firefighting plan, conservationists
AUSTRALIA – Firefighting is not a high enough priority in a draft management plan for Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area, conservationists say. The full impact of one of Tasmania’s worst bushfire seasons is becoming clearer, as more of the area is reopened to the public. More than 100,000 hectares has been burnt across the state since the middle of January.

Critter Of The Week – Nicola Toki (Audio 12:13)
NEW ZEALAND – DOC’s Threatened Species Ambassador, Nicola Toki, talks about the New Zealand  longfin eel, or tuna. She says the eel is an “incredible, incredible animals with such and incredible life history”. Toki says that all of the eels we see in New Zealand are “virgins”, who might live in a freshwater waterway here for 50-60 years. But they then head 1000kms into the ocean, mate with other eels, die, then their tiny larvae swim back to New Zealand.

DoC prepares for ‘rodent plagues’ and 1080 drops across country
NEW ZEALAND – Potential “rodent plagues” across the country may prompt more large-scale drops of controversial poison 1080, just two years after the most wide-scale drop in New Zealand history. Early indications from the Department of Conservation (Doc) suggest that 2016 will be another beech mast year, in which seeds from flowering beech forests fall to the ground, attracting large numbers of rats and stoats.

Economy and Business

‘Command and control’ banks have got ethics and culture all wrong
The latest scandal engulfing Australia’s biggest bank has reverberated through the industry with NAB and the ANZ Bank instigating reviews of their life insurance businesses. Earlier this year ANZ was charged with fixing its bank bill swap rate. ASIC called it “unconscionable conduct and market manipulation”. Westpac has been implicated as well. It is understood ASIC has identified 120 of its employees as “persons on interest” in its investigations of rate rigging.

Can Apple’s $1.5bn green bond inspire more environmental investments?
On the surface, green bonds seem counter intuitive: why would a company willingly take on debt to finance environmental efforts? But Apple’s recent decision to issue its first green bond suggests that this type of investment could play a key role in reining in global warming.

The Bold Approach of Transformational Companies
At age 27, I was the youngest director elected to Vancity Credit Union, the largest community-based credit union in the world. It was the late 1980s… My first board-management strategy session was spent discussing mergers, declining margins, capital adequacy and potential staff lay-offs. We were in a bad business cycle. An hour before the meeting was scheduled to end, we reached the final agenda item: “Other Business.” Assured no one else had any other business to bring to the table, I raised my hand: “What about philanthropy?” I ventured. The room fell silent. The CEO’s face reddened. “We run a business. This is not a sock-hop,” he growled. Nothing more was said and the chair adjourned the meeting…

Waste and the Circular Economy

Ten everyday products with hidden environmental costs
Think your life is made easier by throwaway goods? Someone else’s isn’t. Here are 10 everyday items that come with a hefty environmental price tag.

Politics and Society

The ‘clock is ticking’ on climate and development goals, researchers warn
If the world continues to postpone taking ambitious action on climate change and doesn’t take advantage of a wide range of technologies to reduce emissions, the new Sustainable Development Goals will be much harder to achieve, a Berlin-based research institute says.

Young people are suing governments over climate change
WHEN a group of teenagers first started taking governments to court over the lack of climate change action, people laughed at them. They are not laughing now. This week a US court will consider whether 21 young people have a right to sue the US Government, President Barack Obama and other federal agencies, for their failure to tackle climate change. The young people say they have a constitutional right to life, liberty and property, and this is being violated because of the Federal Government’s support of fossil fuels.

Grand Theft Auto doesn’t cause crime, but poverty and alienation will
AUSTRALIA – Auto related crimes have increased 20 per cent in Melbourne over the last five years with police citing 16,000 cars stolen in 2015. And Victoria’s Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton is reportedly attributing a rise in thefts and burglaries to the “Grand Theft Auto generation”.

Google’s Go victory shows AI thinking can be unpredictable, and that’s a concern
Humans have been taking a beating from computers lately. The 4-1 defeat of Go grandmaster Lee Se-Dol by Google’s AlphaGo artificial intelligence (AI) is only the latest in a string of pursuits in which technology has triumphed over humanity… The problem is the AI will explore the entire space of possible moves and strategies in a way humans never would, and we have no insight into the methods it will derive from that exploration. In the second game between Lee Se-Dol and AlphaGo, the AI made a move so surprising – “not a human move” in the words of a commentator – that Lee Se-Dol had to leave the room for 15 minutes to recover his composure.

Green: Govt blocking fair hearing
NEW ZEALAND – Information released by the Ministry for the Environment shows the Environmental Legal Assistance Fund has massively underspent, and after a slight trend upwards since 2010, has had $445,000 slashed from its budget since the 2013-14 financial year.  The fund helps community groups such as residents associations and Forest and Bird to participate in major environmental decisions, under the Resource Management Act.   It helps those groups fund the cost of lawyers and expert witnesses in Environment Court cases and Board of Inquiry hearings for “matters of national significance”.

Webinar: Understanding the Great Barrier Reef delisting controversy
Environmental Conflicts are a major concern around extractive industry projects worldwide. The challenge in meeting many of the SDG goals and targets is to find a way by which ecological conservation goals can be reconciled with key infrastructure and development goals effectively. The threat by UNESCO to delist the Great Barrier Reef from the World Heritage listing is a case of how such a conflict was reconciled between environmentalists, the government of Australia and a multilateral body.
Webinar: 8 April 2016, 10:00-11:30 am Australian Eastern Standard Time 

Built Environment

Are these the seven most sustainable cities? – in pictures
Landmarks around the world went dark for Earth Hour this weekend but many cities are making longer term moves towards sustainability. From Hamburg’s coffee pod ban to São Paulo’s ad-free streets – seven cities taking radical steps

Food Systems

Chicken chunks made from peas bring in investors
NEW ZEALAND – A start up company that makes peas into chicken chunks has already attracted $1.2 million from international angel investors. Kiwi investors were given the same opportunity after Sunfed Meats founder and chief executive Shama Lee pitched her plant-based chicken product to them at the New Zealand Agribusiness Investment Showcase near Palmerston North. The chicken is made from yellow peas imported from Canada in a process undisclosed for commercial reasons,  and tastes and looks like chicken.


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