Sustainable Development News

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

How humans are driving the sixth mass extinction
Periodically, in the vast spans of time that have proceeded us, our planet’s living beings have been purged by planetary catastrophes so extreme they make your typical Ice Age look like the geological equivalent of a stroll in the park. Scientists count just five mass extinctions in an unimaginably long expanse of 450 million years, but they warn we may well be entering a sixth. According to a bold new paper in The Anthropocene Review, this time would be different from past mass extinctions in four crucial ways – and all of these stem from the impact of a single species that arrived on the scene just 200,000 years ago: Homo sapiens.

Energy and Climate Change

Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions fall to record low
Greenhouse gas emissions in Europe have plunged to the lowest level ever recorded after the EU’s member states reported an estimated 23% drop in emissions between 1990 and 2014. The bloc has now overshot its target for 2020 of cutting emissions by one-fifth – at the same time that its economy grew by 46%, according to the EU’s climate chief, Miguel Arias Canete . “We have shown consistently that climate protection and economic growth go hand-in-hand,” he said. “This is a strong signal ahead of the Paris climate conference.”

Renewables lowered electricity costs by £1.5bn in 2014, report finds
A new report has revealed that renewable energy in the form of wind and solar photovoltaics reduced the wholesale annual cost of electricity by £1.55bn.  The report, released today (19 October) by renewable energy company Good Energy, shows that the rise in renewable energy is currently lessening the impact that subsidies are having on bill payers.

Leaders of the IMF, World Bank and Germany’s Angela Merkel call for price on carbon
Global leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the heads of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have called on countries and companies to put a price on carbon to speed up efforts to fight climate change. In what has been described as an unprecedented alliance ahead of the Paris climate summit starting next month, the leaders said pricing emissions was needed to steer the global economy to a low-carbon future that would avoid dangerous levels of global warming.

Pictures: Rising Seas Are Already Damaging These Pacific Islands
“Garlands of the gods” is how Kiribati poet Teweiariki Tearo describes the atolls of his homeland. And from the air, that is how they look, with a smoke ring of clouds above lush green slivers of land. How fragile they seem! Built by the sea, they are increasingly being reclaimed by the sea. In February 2015, high spring tides coincided with storm-generated swells to flood homes and damage roads and seawalls in Kiribati’s capital, Tarawa.

81 global companies join Obama in climate pledge
Nike, McDonalds, Sony and Dell are among 81 corporations that have signed up to a new White House-sponsored pledge promising individual and collective action on climate change.  The White House announced on Monday that 68 new companies had signed up to the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, joining 13 original signatories.

The White House climate commitments are another set of incoherent goals
Another day, another set of climate promises from big business… But do the climate commitments add up to meaningful change? They may. But so far, they haven’t.  Big companies have been making promises for more than a decade.

Dalai Lama says strong action on climate change is a human responsibility
The Dalai Lama on Tuesday urged strong global action to limit global warming and to protect fragile environments, including the Himalayan glaciers and Tibetan plateau.

Environment and Biodiversity

Want good conservation? Treat animals like trees, and ‘plant’ them in new areas
Much of modern conservation is characterised by an unspoken philosophy of “build it and they will come”. If we plant the trees and restore the habitat, the animals will return. Right? Over the past couple of decades this philosophy, nicknamed the Field of Dreams hypothesis, had led many conservation practitioners to focus purely on plants. Then they simply cross their fingers and hope that other elements of the original ecosystem will eventually come back, just like the crowds who come to watch the baseball game and save the farm from ruin in the movie. Unfortunately, we now know that this hypothesis only applies in some circumstances, primarily involving mobile animals that can colonise these recreated habitats from afar.

The Brave New World of Ecomodernism
Recently the Guardian has featured a back and forth about Ecomodernism. Ecomodernism holds that not only are humans driving the future of our world, but through technology can decouple our future from natural ecosystems. In this process the world would turn into urban enclaves surrounded by mechanically farmed agricultural lands and islands reserved for nature. It is a vision of naive young urban professionals.

On ice for years, ‘Last Ocean’ again on agenda
A NEW Zealand-led proposal to create an enormous marine sanctuary off the Antarctic coast will be considered for a fifth consecutive year at international talks in Australia. The NZ-US bid – along with another Australian-backed scheme – aimed at protecting marine life surrounding the frozen continent, will be discussed at the annual Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources meeting that began in Hobart yesterday. Both bids were blocked by China and Russia last year.

Mobile goats prove to be a natural weed killer
It is the weed control method that you have not heard of. Farmers and local councils on the far south coast of New South Wales are hiring goats to tackle hard to access vegetation. What started with only a handful of goats is set to expand to meet the growing demand in metropolitan areas. Elizabeth Larsen has been running Herds for Hire for the past four years in the Bega Valley.

Poor nutrition may be another reason for the declining honey bee population
Pesticides and bee diseases seem to draw the most attention as the cause of declining bee numbers. But nutritional stress could be another. Habitat loss and intensified agriculture lead to diminishing food resources for bees. This additional stress lowers their resistance to pesticides and diseases.

Q&A: Native birds expert Hugh Robertson
New Zealand bird expert Hugh Robertson joined us for a live Q&A session. Robertson works at the Department of Conservation and is one of the authors of The Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand.

Economy and Business

Conflict-Free And Easy To Repair, The Fairphone Is The World’s Most Ethical Phone
The Fairphone is a modular handset designed with repairability and ethical sourcing of its materials as headline features. It sold 60,000 units. Amazingly, for what sounds like a nerd-phone, almost half of those buyers had never owned a smartphone before. Now the Fairphone 2 is launching, and with a totally-new, in-house design. The new phone is even easier to repair, and because it was wholly designed by the FairPhone team, its supply chain is even more responsible than ever.

Meet the optimistic entrepreneurs serving the energy poor in Africa
Emmett Costel is surprisingly upbeat for a man who has just returned from a trip where his car broke down in Cabo Delgado, a province in the far north of Mozambique. He shrugs it off. “It happens.” Costel is looking cheerful because the long journey, even the breakdown — “a blown gasket, a four-hour tow, followed by much wrangling to rent a truck and then some” — is worth the effort. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t see the potential,” he says, describing how, in the village of Quionga, he delivered 150 solar home systems that will be sold to people and small businesses who have relied on a mix of kerosene, batteries, and biomass to power their lives.

India’s Reliance Power plans to sell coal mines, shift to solar power
Probably tired of the unending petitions with the regulatory bodies to increase tariffs for coal-based power plants, one of India’s largest private power generation companies, has decided to make a major transition to solar power. Reliance Power owns 3 coal mines in Indonesia through a subsidiary. The mines were supposed to be supply coal for an ultra mega power plant that the company had successfully bid. Work on the 3,960 MW power plant at Krishnapatnam has now stopped as the company expressed its inability to supply power at the low price it had bid during the auction.


River flows drop as carbon dioxide creates thirstier plants
Rising carbon dioxide concentrations are causing vegetation across large parts of Australia to grow more quickly, in turn consuming more water and reducing flows into river basins. Our research, published today in Nature Climate Change, shows that river flows have decreased by 24-28% in a large part of Australia due to increasing CO₂ levels, which have risen by 14% since the early 1980s. This could exacerbate water scarcity in several populated and agriculturally important regions.

Revenue at risk: Business growth in an era of water scarcity
Fourteen of the world’s 20 megacities — those with the largest or fastest growing economies and the largest populations — are experiencing water scarcity or drought conditions. These are the very cities where demand for goods and services is growing at a rapid pace, and where businesses are looking to grow. But how much growth can our thirsty cities sustain?

Waste and the Circular Economy

How would you build a business in the circular economy?
Recently, Prodware and Resource Efficient Business hosted a roundtable discussion and networking event to discuss the circular economy. The discussion looked at whether conditions were right for new businesses to be created from scratch to exploit the opportunities of the circular economy or whether challenges lay in the way. Click here to read the full discussion

The benefit of more electronics recycling? Try $10 billion
The industry’s biggest computer hardware and gadget manufacturers have been pretty quiet about their commitments to accounting for natural capital — aka the environmental costs related to their business activities. That’s not to say they aren’t experimenting with recovery and reuse initiatives. Dell and Hewlett-Packard have been particularly innovative about creating closed-loop processes for putting recycled plastics back in service. It’s just that with the exception of Dell, no one company is really talking about these programs from a global perspective. At least not publicly.

Plastic bag charge cuts use 80% in Scotland
The number of plastic carrier bags handed out in stores was slashed by at least 650 million in the first year of Scotland’s 5p charge. New figures released on the anniversary of its introduction indicate the levy has cut usage by around 80%, equivalent to 650 million fewer bags than in previous years. The charge for single-use carriers has also raised around £6.7m for good causes in the past 12 months.

Politics and Society

Energy minister ‘open-minded’ about UK solar subsidy cuts
UK – Energy minister Andrea Leadsom has told MPs she remains “open-minded” about plans to slash subsidies for solar power in order to protect consumer bills, but told MPs on Tuesday that “very expensive” nuclear power stations were nonetheless “affordable for customers”. Leadsom was questioned by MPs on the energy and climate change (ECC) select committee about proposed cuts to renewable energy subsidies that her predecessor has called “catastrophic”.

To make people buy into fighting corruption, we first need to know how to sell it
Since the fall of Suharto’s authoritarian and corrupt regime in 1998, Indonesia has carried out campaigns against corruption. But they don’t seem to be working very well. Why is that? Anti-corruption campaigns in Indonesia follow a dominant worldview that see corruption as something evil. Campaigns against corruption in Indonesia paint it as an extraordinary crime carried out by greedy people. But in preaching anti-corruption messages, these campaigns neglect local cultural norms and values.

Activist stunts make good headlines, but no long-term difference
Imagine the scene: the chairman of Shell UK, Erik Bonino, sitting alongside Lee-Anne Barraclough, Shell’s VP of communications, over a Pret a Manger takeaway at Shell’s offices in London. They look out the window at the giant mechanical polar bear that’s been parked there since the morning, “I think we need to back out of the Arctic – this reputational damage is destroying us,” they bemoan, over the echoes of Emma Thompson shouting through a loudspeaker in the background. The reality, of course, was far more nuanced, with politics and protest both playing a role in the decision.

Here’s a song about climate change that’s actually really good: Mizan’s “7 Billion”
There are more than 7.3 billion people on Earth (and counting), but apparently only one of them can sing a seriously good song about the fate of our planet.  Singer-songwriter Mizan Kidanu just released a dreamy track called “7 Billion,” and it’s a far cry from the often cringe-worthy climate-themed tunes of the past. It’s beyond listenable — it’s phenomenal. Mizan, an Ethiopian-raised artist based in New York, reflects on the human condition in her contemplative music.

Young and free? Why I declined to sing the national anthem at the 2015 AFL Grand Final
AUSTRALIA – It’s every performer’s dream. To stand in front of the largest live audience you are ever likely to see and perform the national anthem. Last month I was invited by the AFL to sing Advance Australia Fair at the 2015 Grand Final. I knew it was honour to be asked but I simply can no longer sing the words “for we are young and free”.

Is it ethical to have monkeys pick coconuts for us?
If a creature is smart enough to pick coconuts, is it fair to make him? This is the question at the heart of a controversy over pig-tailed macaques in Thailand that excel at picking coconuts loved by Western consumers — but do so on leashes.

Greens launch app to improve cycling safety
AUSTRALIA – The Greens have launched a new mobile app that aims to make cycling safer by highlighting “chronic underinvestment” in cycling infrastructure. The Bike Blackspot app, which was launched by Senator Janet Rice in Melbourne on Saturday, asks users to report potential improvements and danger zones to cycling infrastructure in local areas. This information is then forwarded to ministers responsible for transport infrastructure at state and federal levels of government.

Built Environment

Community push for 100% renewable energy in Mullumbimby
AUSTRALIA – A community organisation has launched a campaign for donation and investor-funded renewable energy generators in the northern rivers town of Mullumbimby, as part of a push to have the town source all its power needs from renewable energy. COREM – Community Owned Renewable Energy Mullumbimby – attracted nearly 300 residents to its launch on Sunday, which also included representatives from Enova Energy, which on Friday became the first community-owned energy retailer to obtain a licence to sell electricity to consumers in Australia.

Half of all Australian households to have solar and battery storage
The amount of battery storage capacity installed in Australia will grow 50-fold over the next 10 years, a new report has predicted, and the rapidly falling costs of the technology will make electric cars competitive with conventional cars within the next 20 years. The report, published on Tuesday by the Climate Council, predicts that half of all households in Australia will soon have solar with battery storage, with the market potentially growing to $24 billion. Globally, the market for solar PV panels and battery storage is expected to grow tenfold in less than five years.

Food Systems

Six kilometres of dead fish along Muriwai Beach in apparent dumping incident
NEW ZEALAND – Snapper may be too pricey for many at the supermarket, but hundreds have washed up at a west Auckland beach. A trail of snapper and gurnard stretching six kilometres along Muriwai Beach was filmed on Tuesday by fishery protection group LegaSea. The video shows dozens of fish dead on the beach in what the group claimed was yet another example of unnecessary wastage in the fishing industry.

Target Launches Collaboration with MIT Media Lab, IDEO to Explore the Future of Food
Today, Target announced a new collaboration with MIT’s Media Lab and global design firm IDEO that will explore the future of food. The work will focus on areas such as urban farming, food transparency and authenticity, supply chain and health. Target says the goal of the multi-year collaboration is to push the edges of science, technology and design to give people better control over their food choices and help them to eat healthier.


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