Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world. If you like what you see, you are welcome to sign up (on the right) for free sustainable development news delivered direct to your inbox each weekday morning. 

Energy and Climate Change

The world is waking up to the $5.3 trillion cost of fossil fuels
Prospects for global energy markets have been reshaped by two recent pieces of news, one of which helps to explain the other. The first is a report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released on Monday, estimating that global fossil fuel use is subsidised to the tune of US$5.3 trillion a year (6.5% of global GDP). The second is the continuing decline in coal production and use in China, which began in 2014. The latest reports show April 2015 coal production in China was down 7.4% on April 2014. To understand the link between the two, it is necessary to look at the way the IMF obtained its estimate.

Glencore chairman Tony Hayward calls for an end to subsidies for fossil fuels
The chairman of the world’s biggest commodity trader has called for an end to subsidies for fossil fuels. Tony Hayward, the chairman of Glencore Xstrata, told a conference on climate and business in Paris that the subsidies were incompatible with combating climate change. He also called on rich countries to provide financial assistance that would allow poorer ones to cut their greenhouse gas emissions using renewable energy. But Hayward, who headed the oil giant BP during the Gulf oil spill disaster, added an important caveat: subsidies must be eliminated as a prelude to setting a tax or price on carbon dioxide emissions, he said.

An Alaskan island goes 100% renewable
Although Kodiak Island, the second-largest island in the United States, relied on hydropower for 80 percent of the electricity production, it was also burning 2.8 million gallons of diesel per year, at an annual cost of $7 million. In the face of climate change and high electricity costs, the board and managers at Kodiak Electric Association (KEA) set a goal of producing 95 percent of the community’s electrical needs with renewable energy by 2020. They actually arrived there well ahead of time, and are now 99.7 percent renewably powered by wind and hydro.

Global warming documentary makes US television
Thin Ice – the Inside Story of Climate Science
is an award-winning documentary film on global warming, made by DOX Productions in London in collaboration with Victoria University of Wellington and Oxford University. Victoria conducted a successful crowd funding campaign last year to raise funds to create a shorter version of the documentary for television. An hour-long cut has now been accepted by American Public Television, meaning it will be distributed to over 90 TV channels across 40 states. Executive producer Emeritus Professor Peter Barrett says the initial APT release date for Thin Ice, 1 July 2015, is perfect timing.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Environment campaigners protest in central Sydney over Commonwealth Bank investment in fossil fuel projects
A small group of environment campaigners set up camp outside Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s Martin Place branch in Sydney’s CBD on Wednesday to protest against the bank’s investments in fossil fuel projects which they say will harm the Great Barrier Reef. An a capella group sang songs encouraging green living, while a man dressed in a clownfish outfit sat in a swimming pool garnished with reefs as his colleagues poured paper coal over him from fake ships. The rally is part of a campaign by at multiple Commonwealth Bank branches around the world this week, and protests have already occurred in Ho Chi Minh City and Auckland.

Environment and Biodiversity kiwi

Budget 2015: Kiwi bird threat boosts conservation funding
A warning about the potential extinction of New Zealand’s national bird has prompted Government to boost funding to conservation efforts. Just over $11 million has been allocated in today’s Budget into into arresting the decline in wild kiwi numbers. The funding would last for four years, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry said. The Department of Conservation (DoC) warned last year that the kiwi could become extinct within our grandchildren’s lifetime. Wild kiwi numbers were falling by 2 per cent each year. At this rate, the bird could be wiped out on the mainland within the next generation.

Government asked to give more consideration to bees
NEW ZEALAND – The Green Party has asked the Environmental Protection Agency to pay more attention to the effects of some pesticides on New Zealand’s bee populations. A report released by the Local Government and Environment Committee indicates pesticides containing neonicotinoids can have a detrimental affects on the health of bees, which are an important part of ecosystems and agricultural operations nationwide. The Committee report resulted from former Green MP Sue Kedgley holding a petition which asked the government to put a stop to the use of pesticides with neonicotinoids. The government has responded by saying the Environmental Protection Agency already has stringent controls over the substances, but the Green Party thinks the issue should receive more acknowledgement

Cloudy issue: we need to fix the Barrier Reef’s murky waters
Over the past 170 years, the dozens of river catchments that empty into the waters around the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) have seen huge amounts of agricultural and urban development. As a result, these rivers now wash significant amounts of sediments, nitrogen, phosphorus and pesticides onto the reef. While difficult to estimate precisely, loads of fine sediment and nutrients have all increased by several times, while the waters are also polluted with synthetic organic pesticides that were not there before about 70 years ago.

WWF Turning Tweets to Donations with #EndangeredEmoji Twitter Campaign
Last week, just as TOMS Shoes began enabling socially conscious shoppers to make an impact — for free — through its One Day Without Shoes campaign, WWF launched its first ever emoji-based crowdfunding campaign to help support the organization’s work to protect endangered species and their habitats. #EndangeredEmoji will run through the official @WWF Twitter account and at

California investigates nine-mile oil slick
Clean-up crews are working around the clock as investigators look into how tens of thousands of gallons of oil spewed into the sea off Santa Barbara. More than 6,000 gallons (22,700 litres) of oil have been mopped from the beach – a fraction of the 20,000 gallons officials say spilled into the sea after a pipe burst on Tuesday. Federal officials are to excavate the pipe to find clues to how it ruptured. The company responsible for the pipeline has publicly apologised.

See the top 10 new species of 2015 – in pictures
A cartwheeling spider and a dinosaur dubbed the ‘chicken from hell’ are among the 10 most amazing creatures chosen by scientists from over 18,000 species new to science in the last year.

Economy and Business

Lost in Translation: How to Find a Common Language Between Departments
Despite the progress being made in organizations around the world in the pursuit of sustainability, many still suffer from internal breakdowns in communication on the subject, even when all teams are, ultimately, working toward the same goal. We asked a variety of practitioners their thoughts on solving two of the perhaps most common “language barriers” within companies today — that between Marketing and Sustainability teams, and between LCA practitioners and, well, the rest of the company. And the common theme around solutions seems to involve little more than changing your perspective.

Banking excuses wearing thin as fines top US$200 billion
Some of the world’s largest banks have admitted criminal conduct in manipulating the global foreign exchange market and have been fined some US$5.7 billion. These penalties are by no means the first for the industry, and they’re not even the first to address forex fixing – earlier fines mean the total is now at US$6.3 billion. In sum, the sanctions handed down to the banks suggest there is something very dark at the heart of banking. Fines totalling some US$200 billion (and growing) have been levied against large banks for various offences in the past five years.

KiwiRail costing its options: electric versus diesel
NEW ZEALAND – KiwiRail has received nearly 4000 emails asking that it retain its electric locomotive fleet. This comes after its announcement in March that the state-owned enterprise is considering replacing its electric locomotives with new diesel engines, as a means of saving money. A rally against the proposal was also held outside KiwiRail’s Auckland office on 22 April. It was lead by the Green Party and the Rail and Maritime Transport Union. Since then, Green transport spokesperson Julie Anne Genter has met with KiwiRail Chief Executive Peter Reidy to share public concerns, and in the process shed some light on KiwiRail’s considerations. Genter says while KiwiRail has been costing its options, it has found it would in fact be cheaper to refurbish the current electric fleet than to purchase new diesel locomotives. However, the sticking point comes in the form of timing.

$18m for communities impacted by Murray-Darling Basin Plan
AUSTRALIA – Private enterprise is the big winner in the latest round of Commonwealth funding to help southern New South Wales communities adjust to less water under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Last year councils, businesses, and organisations likely to be affected by the Basin Plan were invited to apply for funding through the Regional Economic Diversification Program. More than 100 funding applications were received.  After nearly 10 months, the State Government has allocated $18 million to 20 businesses and one State Government body, to support a range of industrial and food manufacturing projects

5 Water-Saving Ways to Replace Lawns During California’s Drought
USA – A grass-busting landscaping company, Turf Terminators launched last July with just three employees. Now the Los Angeles business boasts more than 535 full-time workers and has replaced millions of square feet of grass lawns with water-saving ground cover and drought-tolerant plants. As the drought persists in California, homeowners’ interest in finding ways to conserve water has grown: Turf Terminators, for instance, already has received more than 60,000 customer inquiries. For each square foot of grass they remove, homeowners save an average of 44 gallons of water a year. That means grass removal is “an important piece” of addressing California’s ongoing water crisis, says Andrew Farrell, head of business development for Turf Terminators.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Central Coast plastics fuelling the future
Thousands of tonnes of household plastics thrown away on the New South Wales Central Coast could soon be destined to power cars and trucks – as a result of new technology being used for the first time in Australia. Foyson Resources Ltd is behind the establishment of a $4 million facility at Berkeley Vale, which will eventually convert 200 tonnes of plastics a day into 50 million litres of diesel and 18 million litres of petrol a year. “It has significant environmental benefits,” said Foyson Managing Director Mike Palmer. “We’re taking plastics which would normally go into a landfill and turning them back into usable fuels – diesels and petrols.”

Pollution fears for Wellington’s Waipahihi stream
NEW ZEALAND – Pollution at Waipahihi stream in a Wellington suburb is so bad, teachers at a nearby school can smell diesel in their staffroom. There were five pollution incidents on one day last month, and staff and pupils at Karori West Normal School say it is time for action to save threatened eels and other native species. Karori West Normal School vice-principal Janice Jones said a strong smell of diesel was noticeable on April 17, so Greater Wellington Regional Council was contacted. After investigating, the council said it had discovered discolouration of the stream in two more areas and bubbles flowing down a section of the stormwater network.  Fuel was confirmed as the toxin spilt in the stream. Emma Blackwell,  8, a student at the school, said she went up the stream with her father that day. “We found loads of what looked like blue paint in the stream,” she said. “I felt really sad for the animals that live in the stream.”

[Ed: Don’t let anything get into your stormwater system, don’t wash your car on your driveway, be careful when washing down or painting on your property, think about where your run off is going!]

Politics and Society

Global news organisations agree to share climate change content
An unprecedented alliance of news publishers including the Guardian, El País, Le Monde and China Daily have agreed to share climate change content to raise awareness in the runup to the next UN summit. More than two dozen publishers from around the world – from the Sydney Morning Herald to India Today and the Seattle Times – have agreed to scrap licensing fees for climate change content so that members of the alliance can freely republish articles. The initiative, called the Climate Publishers Network, aims to create a global pool of content to provide a resource for publishers to widen coverage ahead of the UN climate change summit in Paris in December.

How Do We Create the Sustainable Leaders That We Need? Start by Inspiring Kids to Recycle
Survey data indicates that, compared to older generations, younger generations are more supportive of environmental legislation and the notion that global climate change is the result of human activity, yet are simultaneously less likely to recycle or recognize the benefits of recycling. This is a disparity we should all be concerned with, as these are the individuals that will one day become our future social entrepreneurs, conscious consumers, and environmental activists. Instilling a sustainable mindset at an early age is key, but how exactly do we motivate younger individuals to care about things such as recycling and recyclable packaging?

Feel fantastic, au naturel
Over the past six years, the number of antidepressants prescribed to New Zealanders has doubled, sending 1 in 10 Kiwis on routine trips to local pharmacies for drugs such as Zoloft and Prozac. And as big-name pharmaceutical companies continue to pocket millions from these sales, some wellness professionals are beginning to question whether a daily dosage of pills is an effective solution to the complex issues facing those suffering from mental health problems.

Fremantle plastic bag ban should be overturned, says WA Liberal MP Peter Katsambanis
AUSTRALIA – A ban on plastic bags introduced by the City of Fremantle is under threat by an Upper House MP who wants to overturn it. Liberal MP Peter Katsambanis has moved to disallow the ban on non-biodegradable plastic bags introduced by the port city last year. Fremantle is the first local government in Western Australia to ban plastic bags. The council had tried to implement the ban in 2013, but the move was struck down by the State Government. Mr Katsambanis, the member for the North Metropolitan region, said the use of plastic bags was not an issue that should be left up to individual local governments.

Here’s how the states can dodge Canberra’s renewable roadblock
AUSTRALIA – Labor and the Coalition government have now agreed to cut the federal renewable energy target (RET) from 41,000 gigawatt hours in 2020, to 33,000 GWh – a reduction of almost 20%. This agreement has been hailed as restoring stability to the industry, after a year plagued with
uncertainty and featuring two reviews. However, this is still a significant cut, particularly as the target is a significant part of Australia’s policy response to climate change. Meanwhile, Victoria has committed to restoring its own renewable energy target, the VRET, following other states in developing renewable energy policy. However a clause the federal legislation prevents schemes similar to the federal RET. How can the states get around this and support their industries?

Food Systems

10 reasons why your hens may not be laying
The laying cycle of the chicken covers a span of 12 months and is fairly predictable if a bird is being well cared for. From the point of lay at approximately 18-22 weeks of age, egg production goes up very quickly to peak 6-8 weeks later. It then gradually declines over the next 12 months to about half of what it was at its peak. A sudden drop in egg numbers in a flock requires investigation and for the small flock owner there are a few possible explanations.

 Estimates of the footprint of fisheries in Australian and New Zealand oceans in the 1950s compared to in the 2000s. (Supplied: Professor Daniel Pauly)

Estimates of the footprint of fisheries in Australian and New Zealand oceans in the 1950s compared to in the 2000s. (Supplied: Professor Daniel Pauly)

Australia’s commercial fishing industry catches millions of tonnes more than reported: researchers
Australia’s long-term commercial fish catch is estimated to be millions of tonnes more than what has been officially reported, analysis has found. A catch of more than 8 million tonnes has been reported for 1950-2010 to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. However, researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Fisheries Centre estimate that an extra 4 million tonnes of fish was caught in that period, although it was deemed to be “discards”.

Factory trawler Geelong Star turns off tracking device, fearing activist backlash
AUSTRALIA – Factory fishing trawler Geelong Star has approval to fish with a safety tracking device turned off, after the operator raised concerns it could be targeted by activists. The 95-metre trawler has been fishing without its Automatic Identification System (AIS) turned on so it can avoid detection. The operator, Seafish Tasmania, told the Australian Maritime Safety Authority there had been threats to harm the ship and its crew. In a statement to the ABC it claimed radical green groups were behind the threats.  Maritime law expert Michael White is concerned, saying the system helps avoid collisions at sea and turning it off could be dangerous.

Some 40% of UK’s food imports from areas of high water risk
Globally, the agricultural sector consumes about 70% of the planet’s accessible freshwater – more than twice that of industry, and dwarfing municipal use. The 2015 Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum ranked water the greatest potential economic impact risk.  Likewise, WWF research  indicates that 40% of the UK’s imports come from areas of high water risk. Sustainable business managers know water is an issue, but knowing is one thing, effectively addressing such risks is another.

Soil conservator Stan Braaksma: Farming evolves to control erosion
NEW ZEALAND – With a broad sweep of his arm, Wellington Regional Council soil conservator Stan Braaksma traces the history of his involvement with Highcliffs farm in the Wairarapa over the past 20 years. In the distance he points out the first of the pine trees planted, which are now reaching maturity. Closer are the willows and poplars, and over the other side of the river on the steep face is the once near-denuded stand of kowhai which has taken on a new lease of life thanks to possum control. He admits to a degree of satisfaction now that about 50 per cent of the farm is “along the track to sustainability” – that is to say, erosion has been checked. Provided the planting programme continues, in another 15 years the property should be largely insured against landslips.


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