Sustainable Development News

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

A tale of burgers and buns: Who is really reducing deforestation?
Deconstruct a hamburger, and what have you got? Beef — maybe from Paraguay — on a bun that might contain soy from Brazil and palm oil from Indonesia, all wrapped in a paper bag made from pulverized Malaysian trees. A decade ago, you could have assumed each of these ingredients came at the expense of tropical forests, which were being flattened en masse to make way for giant plantations. That, unfortunately, is still a good bet, but it’s not a sure one, because hundreds of companies have pledged to produce or source palm, timber & pulp, soy, and cattle in ways that don’t drive deforestation. In our Forest Trends Ecosystem Marketplace report… we have tracked 579 individual commitments from 366 companies… and it shows that, of those 366 companies, most still haven’t reported progress on their pledges.

Energy and Climate Change

Regulator opens up new battleground over Australia’s dirty, dumb grid
At the height of the so-called energy crisis in South Australia last week, the country’s principal policy maker took the opportunity to open up a new battlefront between the powerful incumbent energy industry and the new technologies challenging their business models. The Australian Energy Markets Commission said it will look further into “system security” in the light of the growing penetration of wind and solar in the main electricity markets.


Vattenfall commits to £300m UK offshore windfarm despite Brexit
The Swedish energy company Vattenfall is pushing ahead with a £300m windfarm off the coast of Aberdeen despite last month’s EU referendum vote… The 11 turbines in the development will send clean energy back to the grid, but will also be a key testing ground for bringing down the cost of the technology, which is around twice as expensive as turbines on land. Ministers made clear last year that offshore was “still too expensive” and further subsidies would be conditional on the industry cutting cost.

Why is the World Bank backing coal power in Europe’s youngest country?
While many countries, including the US, continue to build coal plants at home, the fuel is increasingly a pariah in the world of development finance. Both the US and the World Bank have limited international finance for new coal power to exceptional circumstances – so rare that Kosovo’s is the only coal plant being considered for World Bank support anywhere on Earth.

Environment and Biodiversity

First Proof That Wild Animals Really Can Communicate With Us
When humans speak up, the little African birds called honeyguides listen—and can understand, a new study confirms for the first time. Honeyguides in northern Mozambique realize that when a man makes a special trilling sound, he wants to find a bees’ nest—and its delectable honey. Birds that hear this trill often lead human hunters to a nest, receiving a reward of honeycomb.

Yao honey hunter Orlando Yassene holds a male greater honeyguide temporarily captured for research in the Niassa National Reserve, Mozambique. Photograph by Claire Spottiswoode

Yao honey hunter Orlando Yassene holds a male greater honeyguide temporarily captured for research in the Niassa National Reserve, Mozambique. Photograph by Claire Spottiswoode

Study: Drought impedes tree growth, shuts down Amazon carbon sink
The Amazon rainforest is popularly known as the “the planet’s lungs” — absorbing and storing 100 billion tons of carbon and preventing it from entering the atmosphere. Maintaining that vast carbon sink is seen as vital to limiting climate change impacts. Now, new research published in the Global Biogeochemical Cycles journal shows that droughts can bring this crucial ecosystem service to a grinding halt.

Pacific bluefin tuna could become extinct without fishing ban, environmental group warns
An environmental group is warning Pacific bluefin tuna are at risk of extinction unless a two-year ban on commercial fishing is put in place.  The Pew Charitable Trusts said the tuna population was at risk of collapse if the management of the critically endangered resource was allowed to continue unchecked.

Queensland setting catch limits for endangered sharks based on ‘dodgy data’
The Queensland government is allowing commercial fisheries to catch endangered sharks on the Great Barrier Reef, with a quota based on data that was useless for managing the shark numbers, according to an independent peer reviewer. Shark experts and WWF are calling for an observer program, which was axed by the previous government in 2013, to be reinstated so that better data on shark catches can be collected.

World Chips In To Retire Two Great Barrier Reef Trawling Licences
When one of five Great Barrier Reef fishing trawler licences was put up for sale, WWF Australia didn’t have the $100,000 asking price, but they bought it anyway. In a “new type of conservation” the organisation asked for donations to cover the cost of the lifetime licence which would now be retired, estimating it would save 10,000 sharks a year. The world responded, raising more than the $100,000 in less than a month. Now a second identical licence has come on the market and WWF Australia is already halfway to reaching that target as well.

Sections of Great Barrier Reef suffering from ‘complete ecosystem collapse’
“Complete ecosystem collapse” is being seen on parts of the Great Barrier Reef, as fish numbers tumble and surviving corals continue to bleach into winter, according to a scientist returning from one of the worst-hit areas.
[Ed: Includes informative 3min video by Prof Terry Hughes]

D-Day for pest control operation
More than $20 million and 720,000ha: today is D-Day for the biggest pest control operation in New Zealand’s history. At Bobs Cove near Queenstown this morning, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry launched the next major stage of the Government’s ongoing “Battle for our Birds”, announcing that extra sites may also be targeted for the aerial 1080 offensive. It’s in response to another heavy beech seedfall or mast event, which is triggered by climatic conditions. The sudden abundance of food creates explosions in rat populations.

Economy and Business

How to build a low carbon industrial strategy
Britain now has a combined Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It is an intriguing combination of motivations and intent, but whatever follows must be a low carbon industrial strategy, which battles climate change while fostering economic development.

New Study Calls Transparency, Anti-Corruption Efforts in Emerging Markets ‘Pathetic’
A new report from Transparency International reveals that emerging market multinationals are far from responsible global citizens, with low transparency standards and weak anti-corruption policies that have barely improved over the last few years, if at all. In the organization’s latest assessment, 75 of the 100 assessed companies scored less than 5 out of 10 overall for transparency and scored an average of 48 percent for disclosure of their anti-corruption programs.

Tesla’s new master plan revealed, and it’s Uber ambitious
In a blog post published on the Tesla website late on Wednesday, Musk summarised the “Tesla Master Plan, Part Deux” thus: “Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage; Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments; Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning; Enable your car to make money for you when you aren’t using it.”

Waste and the Circular Economy

Ford, Jose Cuervo and the future of waste-based materials
After years of experimenting with wheat straw-blend plastics and upholstery threaded with recycled PET bottles, Ford Motor Co. was in the market for other unconventional material feedstocks — a pursuit that led to a deal announced this week for a small-scale material research project using Jose Cuervo’s would-be agave waste.

ByFusion: Creating the Building Blocks for Tackling Ocean Waste
In the throes of developing a process for creating construction blocks out of straw bales – and filled with TV news images of his beautiful country’s ocean-waste mountain – New Zealand-based inventor and engineer Peter Lewis had a light-bulb moment: What if all of this plastic waste could somehow be put to good use? He played around with some ideas and soon realised that plastic boasted similar thermal properties to straw bales and, if presented in the right way, could be used in construction, too.

Politics and Society

Australia ranks 20th on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals
Australia may be home to some of the world’s most liveable cities, but we have a long way to go to meet the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Australia ranks 20th in the world – well behind Canada and many European countries but ahead of the United States – according to a new index that compares different nations’ performance on the SDGs, which were adopted last September. Launched at this week’s United Nations SDG talks in New York, the index marks each country’s performance towards the 17 goals.

Why we need to hear what controversial people say and not silence the debate
We who live in Western liberal democracies seem to be in a permanent state of angst about who should be allowed to speak and what they should be allowed to speak about. This angst is acute at the moment, since low-key voices that once represented extreme views on a range of social issues have recently become louder… Even if the stream-of-consciousness ramblings of Trump and Hanson, as two examples, are generally incoherent, could there be any good points worth exploring buried under the intellectual rubble? Either way, should we be listening? Let me make the case for why these views should be heard, with attention to specific contexts and principles.


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