Sustainable Development News

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

Do you want trees with that? How to stop consumer products destroying the rainforests
If we are to succeed in tackling climate change, it is vital that we preserve the terrestrial carbon locked up in our forests and soils. Even putting the climate benefits aside, the value of our forests is immense. Rainforests cover just 6% of Earth’s surface but are home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, with many species still to be discovered and named.

Energy and Climate Change

South-East Asian haze strikes the Pacific as fires exceed greenhouse gas output of the US
Indonesian forest and agricultural fires cloaking South-East Asia in acrid haze are spewing more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each day than all United States economic activity, according to an environmental watchdog. The shock assessment came as Jakarta said the number of blazes was increasing across the archipelago despite a multinational firefighting effort, and announced plans to deploy more water-bombing aircraft.

India’s climate pledge rests on green growth story
Every summer, as India’s biggest cities resort to ‘load shedding’ to keep pace with the demand for power, its residents cuss and sweat, waiting for the comforting whirr of the fan and the hum of the air conditioner that allows them to stay insulated from the reality that millions of others live with – a life without electricity. As our society transforms and our cities get more and more attractive to migrants seeking ‘the good life’, our urbanisation experiment gets impetus.

And Now for Some Good News About Climate Change (Book Talk)
There are now only 39 days to go until the world’s nations convene in Paris for the United Nations Climate Summit. Six years ago, talks in Copenhagen ended in chaos. Is there any reason to suppose Paris will deliver anything more than well-padded expense accounts for delegates and hot air on the issues? In his new book, Atmosphere of Hope: Searching For Solutions To The Climate Change Crisis, best-selling Australian author Tim Flannery counsels cautious optimism by showing how the millions of small actions taken by individuals are driving down oil consumption and points out how new “Third Way” carbon-capture technologies promise to reduce emissions and create massive economic opportunities.

See a Goat In a Clothes Dryer and 15 Other Wondrous Ideas
What if you could change the world for the better? People are doing it every day in ways both big and small. National Geographic’s Your Shot asked its members to capture in pictures the countless ways people are turning bright ideas into real-world innovation. National Geographic’s Your Shot community created vibrant images for this Great Energy Challenge assignment.

Paris 2015: UN Conference on Climate Change

Paris climate pledges ‘will slow energy emissions’
Pledges on greenhouse gas emissions made by governments ahead of landmark climate talks this December will result in a rapid and dramatic slowdown in the growth of carbon from the energy sector – but will not reverse that growth within the next 15 years, the world’s energy watchdog said on Wednesday.

Environment and Biodiversity

Sunscreen protection killing coral around the world
The sunscreen that snorkelers, beachgoers and children romping in the waves lather on for protection is killing coral and reefs around the globe. And a new study finds that a single drop in a small area is all it takes for the chemicals in the lotion to mount an attack. The study was conducted in the US Virgin Islands and Hawaii several years after a chance encounter between a group of researchers on one of the Caribbean beaches, Trunk Bay, and a vendor waiting for the day’s invasion of tourists. Just wait to see what they’d leave behind, he told the scientists – “a long oil slick”. His comment sparked the idea for the research.

Hong Kong’s illegal ivory trade revealed – in pictures
Lack of control over ivory sales is hindering progress made by China and the US to combat elephant poaching, say NGO WildAid, after an investigation exposes traders using legal trade as a cover.

Damaged seagrass meadows release ancient carbon
AUSTRALIA – Human damage to seagrass meadows leads to the release of ancient carbon stores, a study has found. Australian researchers studied sea grass meadows in Jervis Bay that had been disturbed by seismic testing in the 1960s. “We found that in the area that had been disturbed, there had been a 72 per cent decline in the amount of organic carbon,” marine ecologist Dr Peter Macreadie for Deakin University and the University of Technology, Sydney said. The findings suggest protecting and restoring seagrass meadows could be an important strategy in mitigating climate change, say the authors in today’s issue of the Royal Society journal Proceedings B.

Dairy expansions and greenhouse gases surged since 1990 – report
New Zealand’s small population has allowed it to get away with “atrocious” behaviour when it comes to the environment. But a report into the state of the environment, the first of its kind since 2007, shows Kiwis are changing their attitudes and investing heavily in reducing the damage. The issues are covered in the Environment Aotearoa 2015 report, which Waikato Professor of International Law, Alexander Gillespie said will help identify gaps in the way New Zealand tackles environmental challenges.

See also

John Tregidga: Mood for change in Hauraki Gulf
NEW ZEALAND – Four years ago the Hauraki Gulf Forum’s “State of our Gulf” report warned of widespread decline in the condition of its water and birds and marine life. A seminar next Tuesday will look at the responses and prospects for change. If you took two journeys around the Gulf, one in 2011 and one today, you’d notice some important changes.

Why poo transplants are nothing to be sniffed at
Most of us will have experienced diarrhoea or Delhi Belly and spent an unpleasant 48 hours in bed or on the toilet, often while travelling. Studies show that if severe, these infections can sometimes change your gut microbes permanently. And rather than sitting it out we are increasingly turning to powerful broad spectrum antibiotics that kill the infectious bug – but these can also cause collateral damage and weaken our resistance to recurrences. Five years in the future we could be popping capsules to cure us and reboot our healthy gut community made up of our frozen poo we stored when we were healthy.

Economy and Business

Google backs Africa’s largest wind farm
Google has announced plans to buy a 12.5% stake in the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project in Northern Kenya – Africa’s largest wind farm. The 310MW project will feature 365 wind turbines and provide almost a fifth of Kenya’s installed capacity.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Startup Exploring Multibillion-Dollar Opportunity for Coal Ash
Coal ash is the United States’ second-largest waste stream, after household garbage. It needs to be stored safely to prevent arsenic, lead, mercury and other toxins from leaching into farmlands, rivers, lakes, and other public water sources. Coal-fired power plants in the United States generate 140 million tons of coal ash each year – leaving an estimated 3.5 billion tons which now must be managed. Now a startup from Charlotte, North Carolina thinks it might have a profitable solution to this toxic problem.

Worms in the kitchen: how food waste could be solved by the humble invertebrate
Worms of the redworm variety, which digest organic material, are now a market of their own, and are sold by the dozens or even hundreds to individuals and institutions wanting to reduce their organic waste. Organic waste often lands in incinerators along with regular waste, which means the nutrition contained within it is lost. However, some municipalities, especially in northern Europe, now encourage their residents to compost using worms.  Gothenburg, Sweden’s second-largest city, uses its website to advise residents on making their own compost, adding that it will decrease their rubbish removal costs.

United Upcycles Banners Into Bags to Benefit Re:new Project, Peruvian Forest Project
More than 20 large banners that encouraged United Airlines customers to “Fly the Friendly Skies” at Chicago O’Hare found new life; the airline worked with the Columbia College Chicago Department of Fashion Studies and the Re:new Project – a nonprofit that provides employment opportunities for refugee women – to transform the large fabric signs into 100 eco-friendly carry-on bags.

Politics and Society

Canada’s Justin Trudeau faces big challenges on climate change
Newly elected Canadian leader Justin Trudeau will arrive in office with a promise to improve Canada’s battered environmental image, vowing a new strategy for global climate negotiations in Paris this December. But delivering policies to match the expectations will be much tougher. Trudeau has less than 40 days before the Paris conference begins, hardly time for yet-unnamed energy and environment ministers to get up to speed, let alone to forge a common position with Canada’s provinces on carbon emissions cuts.

Hoesung Lee – an ordinary guy who helped ‘clean up’ Korea (Profile)
Although one of the world’s top carbon emitters, South Korea has also become a leader in pursuing climate-resilient economic development. Its transformation was witnessed – and partially pioneered – by Dr Hoesung Lee, an economist specialising in climate change. The 69-year-old now has the world’s climate blueprint on his plate, having been elected as the fourth and latest chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations body that assesses climate research and issues.

Bjorn Lomborg: Government withdraws $4 million funding offer for controversial research centre
AUSTRALIA – The Federal Government says it has withdrawn a $4 million offer to help establish a research centre headed by Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg. Education Minister Simon Birmingham has told a Senate estimates hearing the proposal was quietly dropped in the week when Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister.Cartoon - Hitler-Denial

Road to Paris: Hitler Denial, a cartoon in 36 pages
Australian cartoonist Stuart McMillen, a Canberra-based science communicator, has released a new 36-page comic about climate change. Hitler Denial has been created to bring the subject of climate change to the fore, ahead of the Paris climate summit in December 2015. Writing in the first of two blog posts on the latest cartoon, McMillen explained why he set the comic in the time of World War II: “Today, when imagining a response to stop climate change, we view the possibilities through the same fog as the 1938 person contemplating whether Britain will ever act to stop Hitler.

Built Environment

How ants could influence urban planning
The way Australian meat ants build their colonies could provide urban planners with an efficient means of building new neighbourhoods, according to a new report published by The Royal Society journal Interface. The Local cost minimization in ant transport networks: from small-scale data to large-scale trade-offs report brings together data from a two-year field study into how ants construct trails linking separate nests. The authors then used this data to create a larger-scale version that could be used by urban developers to build new towns.

Melbourne to create new resilient cities chair
The University of Melbourne and City of Melbourne have announced they will jointly establish a chair of resilient cities to “strengthen Melbourne’s resilience in the face of sustainability challenges, including global warming”.

So long, toxics: A builder’s guide to safer chemicals
Health experts long have recognized the risks of individual and groups of toxic chemicals in building products, beginning with lead and asbestos and continuing to formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds, mercury, arsenic, certain phthalates and flame retardants. These chemicals, among many others, are associated with a range of adverse health and environmental effects, including cancer, obesity, asbestosis, ecotoxicity, endocrine disruption and neurotoxicity.

From New York to Seoul: 10 of the best designs for water-stressed cities – in pictures

Green building - The Edge, Amsterdam

The Edge, Amsterdam: This year BREEAM named The Edge as the most sustainable building in the world after giving it an assessment score of 98.36%. As well as its passive temperature control, beautiful energy efficient design and energy-generating technology, the office building captures rainwater and stores it underground for use in flushing toilets and to water plants in the surrounding gardens. (Photograph: Ronald Tilleman)

Diesel cars emit up to four times more toxic pollution than a bus, data reveals
A modern diesel car pumps out more toxic pollution than a bus or heavy truck, according to new data, a situation described as a “disgrace” by one MEP.  The revelation shows that effective technology to cut nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollution exists, but that car manufacturers are not implementing it in realistic driving conditions.

Food Systems

Why are Australian livestock still turning up in places where they are treated cruelly?
Recent days have seen yet more revelations of irregularities in the live export of Australian animals, and a fresh round of protest against the trade. Last week, the ABC’s 7.30 reported that many animals shipped to the Middle East are individually sold for private slaughter, rather than going through the Australian-approved abattoir system. This system, called the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance System or ESCAS, was a Gillard Government initiative introduced in the wake of the ABC’s 2011 exposé of the treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesia, which prompted a temporary suspension of the trade to Indonesia.


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