Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Today’s top story might scare you a bit – the town of Kamikatsu has 45 categories of waste, but apparently only 1% of Japan’s waste goes into landfill, compared to 49% in Australia. It seems to work. In other news, recent flooding in Hobart has people thinking about planning and prevention for the future, while the University of Melbourne says that 95% of rain water could be absorbed by green roofs, helping to prevent flooding. But change is slow.

Top Story

Kamikatsu: The Japanese town working towards a zero-waste goal by 2020 | ABC News
JAPAN – If you think working out whether your rubbish should go into the recycling bin or not, spare a thought for the residents of the tiny Japanese town of Kamikatsu. The 1,500-odd locals in this village have to sort their waste into 45 different categories. It’s part of the town’s ambitious goal of producing zero waste by 2020… Nestled between green hills and the narrow winding roads of Tokushima prefecture, Kamikatsu looks any other village in provincial Japan. And until the early 2000s it followed the typically Japanese way of disposing of rubbish — incineration. But when the Japanese government introduced strict new regulations cracking down on the toxic chemicals emitted by this process, the town was forced to close its incineration plant.

Climate Change and Energy

ACT brings forward zero emissions target to 2045 | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – The Australian Capital Territory has accelerated its zero emissions target, even as the federal government that gathers within the boundaries of the nation’s capital seems intent on putting a go-slow on climate action. The new target – which now aims for the ACT to reach zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, instead of 2050 – has been announced by Shane Rattenbury, the minister for climate change and sustainability in the Labor-Greens territory government.

ARENA backs “solar gardens” trial, in bid to boost access to PV | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – A “solar gardens” trial project – based on the concept of sharing the benefits of rooftop solar with those who can’t install it, for either logistical or financial reasons – has won backing from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency… Not unlike community veggie patches, the idea is that they give the one-third of Australians who rent, or live in apartments and low income housing – or in other words, people who don’t have their own roof – access to the benefits of solar.

Nissan drives into home solar and battery storage market | RenewEconomy
UK – The Japanese automaker behind the world’s highest selling electric vehicle, the Nissan LEAF, is now offering its UK customers a packaged home solar, storage, smart control solution, as it pushes into the integrated clean energy market. Pricing for the fully integrated product package starts at £3,881, or just a sniff under $A7,000, based on a 4kW PV system and 6kWh storage system, and including supply and installation. That sounds like a very competitive price.

Environment and Biodiversity

The decline of our oceans is accelerating, but it’s not too late to stop it | World Economic Forum
The ocean has shaped my life, from my beginnings in the outer islands of Fiji to my appointment last year as the UN Secretary-General’s special envoy for the ocean. Like millions of others before me who have taken sustenance and succour from Neptune’s world, I know there is so much for which we should give thanks. And yet, over the intervening decades of my life, a quickening cycle of decline has been imposed on the ocean’s health by the ever-accumulating effects of harmful human activities. Thanks to growing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, marine life must now battle with increasing levels of acidification, warming and oxygen depletion. Once-pristine waters are fouled by inexorable flows of plastic pollution and damaging effluent from industry, agriculture and sewage.

‘Shocking’ human impact reported on world’s protected areas | BBC News
One third of the world’s protected lands are being degraded by human activities and are not fit for purpose, according to a new study. Six million sq km of forests, parks and conservation areas are under “intense human pressure” from mining, logging and farming. Countries rich and poor, are quick to designate protected areas but fail to follow up with funding and enforcement. This is why biodiversity is still in catastrophic decline, the authors say.

By the researchers: One-third of the world’s nature reserves are under threat from humans | The Conversation

UNESCO concerned at Tasmanian Government rezoning wilderness areas to allow development | ABC News
The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has raised concerns about Tasmania’s wilderness areas being rezoned for tourism developments and called on the State Government to speed up a Tourism Master Plan requested in 2015. Conservationists said a recent UNESCO document highlighted serious risks to Tasmania’s wilderness brand.

Photo: UNESCO has urged the Tasmanian Government to produce its Tourism Master Plan. (Supplied: Dan Broun)

Photo: UNESCO has urged the Tasmanian Government to produce its Tourism Master Plan. (Supplied: Dan Broun)

Deep in cattle country, graziers go against the flow to help the Great Barrier Reef | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Strathalbyn station is cattle country, about 34,000 hectares of north Queensland grazing land, and the site of a pilot program that has demonstrated the potential to drastically improve water quality flowing towards the Great Barrier Reef. At Strathalbyn, which is more than 200km from the coast, bulldozers and graders work to remediate sunken gullies where sediment flows into the Burdekin river catchment. It looks more like a construction site than an environmental program. The project has recorded a remarkable reduction – from tonnes to grams – in the amount of soil washed away from the test site every year.

Save our bugs! How to avert an insect Armageddon | The Guardian
UK – Already beset by degraded landscapes and a toxic environment, insects are going to suffer a catastrophic decline in numbers unless climate change is controlled, according to new research from the University of East Anglia. This is on top of the alarming collapse reported in Germany, where 75% of the flying insect biomass has vanished from protected areas in less than 30 years. Insects are the backbone of a healthy ecosystem and the consequences of their absence will be global. Is there anything we can do other than despair? Insects will need stepping stones to move around the country as the climate changes. Here are some ways you can help.

Bees drinking from a bird bath. Photograph: Derek Turner/Barcroft Media

Bees drinking from a bird bath. Photograph: Derek Turner/Barcroft Media


Humans are causing massive changes in the location of water around the world, NASA says | The Washington Post
A 14-year NASA mission has confirmed that a massive redistribution of freshwater is occurring across Earth, with middle-latitude belts drying and the tropics and higher latitudes gaining water supplies. The results, which are probably a combination of the effects of climate change, vast human withdrawals of groundwater and simple natural changes, could have profound consequences if they continue, pointing to a situation in which some highly populous regions could struggle to find enough water in the future.

Economy and Business

Shell faces shareholder challenge over climate change approach | The Guardian
Royal Dutch Shell faces a shareholder challenge over climate change this week, as investors insist oil and gas firms should offer more transparency and action on carbon emissions. A growing number of pension funds have backed a resolution at Shell’s AGM on Tuesday that calls on the company to set tougher carbon targets that are in line with the goals of the Paris climate deal.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Point Nemo is the most remote oceanic spot – yet it’s still awash with plastic | The Guardian
Name: Point Nemo.
Age: First discovered in 1992 by survey engineer Hrvoje Lukatela.
Appearance: A load of water, surrounded by even more water.
How do I get there? I wouldn’t bother: the trip would involve a tremendous amount of effort for very little in the way of return.
So what’s the point of Point Nemo? It’s officially the oceanic pole of inaccessibility.
What does that even mean? It’s the spot in the ocean farthest away from land in any direction – in effect, the middle of nowhere…

Politics and Society

Senate report: climate change is a clear and present danger to Australia’s security | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – The Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade yesterday presented its report on the national security implications of climate change. The report makes several findings and recommendations, noting at the outset that climate change has a range of important security implications, both domestically and internationally.

Brumbies cull backflip for Snowy Mountains is ‘madness’: professor | SMH
AUSTRALIA – Letting thousands of brumbies roam wild through the Snowy Mountains and abandoning plans for controlled culling is “madness” and “disaster” for the nation’s natural heritage, says a leading professor. Deputy NSW Premier John Barilaro has backflipped on the state government’s proposed culling plan in Kosciuszko National Park, citing the cultural significance of the brumby.

Read also: Culling of Kosciuszko brumbies to be banned under plan to protect ‘national icons’ | ABC News

Coal-reliant Philippines struggles to power up clean energy | Devex
PHILIPPINES – Renewable energy costs are falling around the globe, but the Philippines, up to now, has shown few signs of moving away from coal, despite ratifying the Paris Agreement to curb climate change and passing laws pushing for a shift to renewable energy. The 400 percent tax hike on imported coal – part of a wider package of tax reforms passed last year to help fund a major infrastructure project – could change that, environmental experts say.

Built Environment

Green roofs for Australian cities would help reduce flooding and save on bills, study shows | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – It’s a bold vision for Australia’s future. The grey roofs of city buildings transformed into a green canopy. City councils — including Sydney and Melbourne — have been nurturing the green roof concept for about a decade. But progress has been slow. Researchers have now published new data further measuring the benefits of these gardens in the sky in the hope that more developers and property owners will take up the idea. The University of Melbourne’s Dr Claire Farrell said her team found a 10-centimetre-deep substrate could absorb up to 95 per cent of annual rainfall in Melbourne… “As cities become more dense, we’re getting more and more rooftops and more impervious surfaces,” Dr Farrell said. “[It] can lead to flash flooding when we have big events in a short period of time.”

Photo: Associate Professor Nick Williams shows off the University of Melbourne's green roof which thrives in a specially designed substrate. (ABC News: James Hancock)

Photo: Associate Professor Nick Williams shows off the University of Melbourne’s green roof which thrives in a specially designed substrate. (ABC News: James Hancock)

Lessons in resilience: what city planners can learn from Hobart’s floods | The Conversation
AUSTRALIA – Hobart is a city known for its risk of catastrophic fire, such as the devastating wildfires of 1897-98 and 1967. As the second-driest city in Australia, until last week it was easy to forget that Hobart is also vulnerable to serious flooding. Like many cities, Hobart’s closeness to nature can be a double-edged sword – the hilly terrain affords spectacular views of the mountain and the river, but makes the city especially prone to wildfire and flash-flooding. Hobart’s lack of preparedness for the scale and intensity of the May 2018 flood is also partly attributable to the city’s postwar planning. So how can Hobart and cities like it become more resilient to increasingly frequent natural disasters?

Turning a beast of a building into a beautiful high performer | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – Shiny new high-performance buildings are fabulous, but upgrading an existing building has some fundamental sustainability advantages. The Fifth Estate turned to experts from engineering, architecture and development to find out the opportunities for refurbishing or repurposing older buildings, and the key factors for success.

100 Harris had an existing saw-toothed roof that provided a major win for passive design, as glazing in the roof enabled light into the space.

100 Harris had an existing saw-toothed roof that provided a major win for passive design, as glazing in the roof enabled light into the space.

Food Systems and Agriculture

Last Menindee cotton harvest is underway as water dries up | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – The last-ever cotton harvest in far west New South Wales is under way at Tandou near Menindee, signalling the end of large-scale irrigated agriculture in the region. The 79,000-hectare property will be converted to a dorper lamb business over the next several years. The Federal Government bought back Tandou’s 22,000 megalitre water allocation last year, handing over $78 million to owner Webster Limited.