Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Energy and Climate Change

UK on track to meet its renewable energy targets
The UK is on track to meet its renewable energy goals, with wind power substituting for gas and coal use and driving down greenhouse gas emissions, according to new analyses. However, the actions of the next government are likely to be crucial in deciding whether the legally binding targets can be met. Gas use in the UK fell by more than a fifth from 2005 to 2012, as energy efficiency increased across the economy and green energy took up more of the burden. Under European Union targets, the UK must produce 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, and is one of a small number of big member states to be judged on track to meet all of its energy and climate commitments by the European environment agency.

Solar experts claim multi-billion dollar subsidies wasted on cheap and dodgy panels
More Australians are buying cheap rooftop solar panels that fail long before their promised lifespan, prompting claims a federal rebate scheme needs to be overhauled to prevent dodgy systems receiving public subsidies. Solar industry experts say lax rules covering the scheme – which provides incentives of up to $4350 for a $5500 rooftop system –  mean it is not always delivering the environmental benefits promised.    They blame an explosion of cheap, mainly Chinese-produced solar panels that have flooded the market over the past five years that are failing to provide the 15 years of clean power expected. Installers in four states told Fairfax Media that the worst systems stopped working within 12 months, with others “falling apart” within two or three years.

Balkan dam boom threatens Europe’s last wild waterways
More is known about rivers in the Amazon than Europe’s last wild waterways in the Balkans. But these unique ecosystems in south-east Europe could soon be gone, along with endangered species such as the balkan lynx, if plans for over 2,000 dams go ahead, conservationists warn. Western financial institutions have ploughed hundreds of millions of dollars into building dams in the region, arguing that hydropower is a green energy source that offers poor countries a way out of energy insecurity.

King tide shows signs of things to come
NEW ZEALAND – It’s going to be one of the highest tides of the year but mild weather and light winds for Saturday morning’s super high tide mean it’s unlikely to be a high drama affair. Even so it will be of particular interest for some. With Rodney and Hibiscus Coast’s many beaches and estuaries, and low-lying farmland around Kaipara Harbour, rising sea levels will impact here more than in any other Auckland area, council inundation maps show. Orewa is likely to be one of Auckland’s biggest urban populations to be affected in the coming century. Saturday’s super high tide will provide a glimpse of how rising sea levels will shape the future of Auckland’s coastline, King Tide event manager Ben Sheeran says.

Environment and Biodiversity

Watch: Rare Tiger Family Caught on Video in China
Newly captured video shows a Siberian tiger family playing—the first recorded images of the extremely endangered big cat in inland China. Fewer than 400 Siberian, or Amur, tigers—one of six surviving tiger subspecies—remain in their Russian and Chinese habitats, having dwindled due to extensive hunting over the past century. Most of the animals live in Russia, where it’s illegal to hunt them, or near the Russian-Chinese border, but the big cats have struggled to regain a foothold in China.

John Roughan: Our undersea continent needs better law
When geologists look at New Zealand they don’t see the ocean, they see a great lump of granite, one-third the size of Australia, stretching from New Caledonia to our sub-Antarctic islands. The dry land of New Zealand is just its highest plateau. They say the continent beneath the sea is much like the land we can see. It has mountains and valleys, uplands and plains, high ridges, deep basins. At it highest points it is less than 300m below the surface and falls to 1000 or more metres deep in its troughs. But at its deepest it is barely half the depth of the true ocean floor beyond the continental slope. The continent is ours. It lies within New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone recognised by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

No end in sight for Maungatautari costs
NEW ZEALAND – Ratepayers are expected to foot the $900,000 bill for the Maungatautari Ecological Island on top of paying entry fees to visit.  The reserve needs $1.5 million a year to function and Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust general manager John Simmons is relying on tripling visitor numbers and gathering more donations to meet it.  “Given the growth at the moment, in five years we will be able to do that.”  But the region’s flagship nature reserve might not have five years. It hopes to gather $750,000 for the next two years from central government, Waikato Regional council and Waipa District council but nothing is promised yet.

[ED: …so if you’re in the Waikato or Bay of Plenty, you can help by paying a visit]

Pesticide, bees death link review call welcomed
NEW ZEALAND – The Greens have welcomed a report calling for a government review of a pesticide that has been partially banned overseas and may be responsible for bee deaths. The report by the local government and environment select committee was tabled in Parliament this week in response to a petition signed by nearly 6600 people in 2008. The petition, wanting greater protection measures for bee health, was driven by former Green Party MP Sue Kedgley. Among other recommendations, the report says that the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) should reassess neonicotinoids, a type of insecticide used to control sap-sucking insects such as aphids. The European Union has placed controls on its use in member countries.

Sam Judd: Talk to me, like rivers do
NEW ZEALAND – Many Iwi organisations are going through their treaty settlement processes at the moment. All of them have claimed redress for the environmental destruction that western industry has caused. Maori say “Ko au te awa, ko te awa ko au” or “I am the river, the river is me” – and treat waterways as a living being. It is clear that not all of us treat freshwater like this and also that this is impacting not just the environment, but human lives – just look at the chaos caused by chemicals going into the Waimakiriri River that temporarily blinded and hospitalised several competitors in the coast to coast.

Economy and Business

What are multinationals doing to champion rights of millions trapped in modern-day slavery?
In a world of complex supply chains, migrant workers, sub-suppliers and a constant squeeze on costs, corporate leaders and their stakeholders are keenly aware of the risk of labour exploitation. And for good reason. No industry or region is fully insulated from the social deficit which has emerged from the rise of the modern global economy. The figures are astounding. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that almost 21 million people are currently working in some form of forced labour, with 14.2 million in economic activities such as agriculture, construction, domestic work or manufacturing (pdf).  What’s more, many of these victims have been trafficked across national borders in the process. As campaign coalition Stop The Traffik points out, the hidden and illegal nature of human trafficking makes gathering statistics on this difficult. However, the ILO estimates that 44% of those working in forced labour are also victims of trafficking (pdf).

Burma’s human rights abuses highlight alarming corporate corruption
When Business & Human Rights Resource Centre wrote to over 100 foreign companies investing or operating in Myanmar last year to ask them to publicly disclose details about their activities and human rights commitments, the result was indicative of how the issue of human rights is valued among the companies approached. To date about a quarter has provided relevant information on their human rights policies and due diligence efforts in Myanmar; another quarter is less engaged, providing only general statements about minimum legal or social responsibility requirements. Almost half has yet to respond at all.

Walmart to Increase Wages to $9 an Hour for 500,000 Workers
Walmart announced earnings on Thursday. Between fourth-quarter figures for earnings-per-share, comp sales and revenue was a stunning announcement: The retail giant plans to increase wages for 40 percent of its workforce, some 500,000 employees. This is huge news for the company, the largest private employer in America, which has faced mounting pressure from employees and advocacy groups to increase wages. It was the target of a slew of protests last year that culminated in demonstrations at 1,600 Walmart stores on Black Friday. The company has also taken flak for holding canned food drives for its own employees. And a 2014 study estimated that Walmart workers cost taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance like food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing.

Connecting the Dots: Sustainability Crosses Business Disciplines at Duquesne
If the ideal business has sustainability embedded throughout, why not embed the same lens throughout an MBA program? That’s what faculty members had in mind for the Sustainable MBA program at Duquesne University’s Palumbo Donahue School of Business. Unlike other MBA programs that offer a sustainability concentration as an add-on to the conventional curriculum, Duquesne’s program presents sustainability as the connecting element across the business curriculum — from marketing and public affairs, to finance and operations.

Politics and Society

Harvard’s high-profile alumni join fossil fuel divestment campaign in open letter
Some of Harvard’s most prominent graduates – from Hollywood star Natalie Portman to environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr and the scholar Cornel West – called on the world’s richest university to dump fossil- fuel companies from its $36bn endowment. In an open letter, released on Friday as the university was being taken to court by its own students, more than 30 former Harvard students signed on to a campus campaign calling on the university to fight climate change by divesting from coal, oil and gas companies.

David Attenborough calls on Chinese president to end ivory trade
Sir David Attenborough and a group of broadcasters, conservationists and MPs have called on the Chinese president to end his country’s ivory trade and save African elephants from extinction. In an open letter to Xi Jinping, comedian Ricky Gervais, actor Joanna Lumley Labour MP Tessa Jowell, former environment minister Richard Benyon and Kenyan politician and conservationist Richard Leakey ask China’s leader to outlaw the buying and selling of ivory and educate Chinese citizens on the problem. The intervention is intended to put pressure on China, the world’s biggest market for ivory, despite a global ban in 1989, ahead of a visit by Prince William to the country next month.

People power helps save Pohutukawa trees from axe
Auckland’s Battle of the Pohutukawa has been won by a community uprising against the council’s transport authority. Directors of Auckland Transport – after being besieged by messages from residents, community groups, and MPs from both sides of Parliament – decided yesterday afternoon to save six giant pohutukawa lining Great North Rd at Western Springs. They decided unanimously, behind closed doors after hearing impassioned pleas from supporters of the 81-year-old trees in a public session packed out by about 60 people and their placards, to reject a recommendation from council planning commissioners to give them the chop.

US rolls out air pollution monitors to embassies worldwide
The US is to monitor air quality at its embassies around the world, putting pressure on host governments to tackle harmful smog. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will expand its AirNow programme, which rates air quality from good to hazardous across the US, to include data from overseas diplomatic missions. As well as giving US officials information to protect their health, the State Department hopes the initiative will mobilise action on air pollution and climate change – as happened with a pilot project in Beijing.

Critically endangered pangolins rescued, then sold as food
In some of the more bizarre food news this month: Police in Vietnam’s northern Bac Ninh province recently seized 42 live, critically endangered Sunda Pangolins from poachers, fined the culprits, and delivered the animals to forest rangers for safekeeping—at which point those forest rangers proceeded to undo all this valiant action by selling the animals off to local restaurants. They secured almost $12,000 for the illegal meat, leaving the creatures to have their tongues cut out and their scales plucked off.

Needed billions leaving Africa yearly
This year, 2015, is a strategic make or break year for Africa’s development. With the launching of the post-2015 development agenda, the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be pivotal towards ensuring socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth in Africa. Capturing this defining moment means Africa must mobilise adequate financing for development projects that will operationalise the development strategies. The funding needed is however colossal…. All this external financing however pales in magnitude when contrasted with annual illicit financial flows (IFFs) from Africa.

Built Environment

These Passive-Aggressive Stickers Shame Drivers Who Park In Bike Lanes
On a recent ride down a bike lane in Oakland at rush hour, I counted the obstacles: Two parked cars, one idling charter bus, and a FedEx delivery van. When drivers use a bike lane as extra parking, it’s a violation few cities enforce—and in places like New York, cop cars are often among the offenders. Two Toronto cyclists decided to empower fellow riders to fight back. Their bright green sticker is meant to be slapped on the windshield of an illegally parked car. The message on them is simple: “I parked in a bike lane.”

Food Systems

The World Has Reached Peak Chicken, Peak Rice, And Peak Milk
We still haven’t reached peak oil. But peak milk happened in 2004, peak soybeans in 2009, and peak chicken in 2006. Rice peaked in 1988. A new study published in Ecology and Society explains that 21 key resources that humans rely on—mostly food—have already passed their peak rate of production. “Peak,” in this case, doesn’t mean that we’re actually producing fewer chickens or less milk yet. Instead, the researchers looked at the fact that the rate of production has plateaued, at the same time that population is increasing.

Super trawler proponents to bring controversial fishing vessel to Geelong
A fresh plan to bring a massive factory freezer fishing boat to Australian waters has been met with opposition from marine campaigners. The 95-metre, Dutch-managed Dirk Dirk, which has been renamed Geelong Star, is coming to the country and will make the Victorian city its home port. The plan echoes the controversial attempt in 2012 to bring a “super trawler” to Australia, which prompted a large backlash from environmentalists and smaller fishing operations. Seafish Tasmania was later banned by the federal government from using the 143 metre long FV Margiris to fish for small pelagic fish around the Australian coast from Queensland to Western Australia.

Asparagus growers get Heinz Watties chop
Heinz Watties has stopped taking New Zealand-grown asparagus for canning in favour of cheaper Peruvian product. The decision affects up to 15 growers in Hawke’s Bay and several in the Rangitikei. Growers elsewhere sell all their asparagus fresh on the domestic market or to Japan. About 3000 tonnes of asparagus is produced in New Zealand a year, of which 2500 tonnes is sold domestically, 300 tonnes goes to Japan and the remainder is canned. “It will have a significant impact on growers, removing an outlet for them to sell their asparagus, and creating a possible oversupply in the domestic market,” New Zealand Asparagus Council chairman Tony Rickman said.

At home on NZ’s largest free-farmed pig enterprise
NEW ZEALAND – Choosing to farm pigs outdoors was a deliberate decision by the Sterne family of Hawarden, North Canterbury from the outset. Less expected was how quickly their operation has expanded to become New Zealand’s largest free-farmed pig enterprise. Despite the pig industry attracting negative media attention at times, Steve and Josie Sterne and daughter Holly were happy to open their farm to the public last Friday following their winning of Lincoln University Foundation’s South Island Farmer of the Year competition. Pig farming had received its share of negative publicity so it was a privilege to win the competition, said Steve Sterne. “The public need to know that there are good things happening in agriculture.”


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