Sustainable Development News

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

FactCheck: is global warming intensifying cyclones in the Pacific?
AUSTRALIA – Christine Milne’s statements on global warming linked the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu last weekend with climate change. But while there is very real possibility that there is a causal relationship between cyclone behaviour and anthropogenic global warming, most climate scientists and meteorologists are hesitant to attribute any single event such as an extreme intensity tropical cyclone to global warming. This is because we know that the globe has experienced such events for many thousands of years. The key to understanding whether global warming is causing a change in the behaviour of tropical cyclones is to look at the trends, usually over as many years as possible.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Like everyone else, research charities have a duty to divest
The push for divestment from fossil fuel assets has moved to a new stage, with a campaign by The Guardian newspaper to pressure the world’s two biggest charitable funds, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, to move their money out of fossil fuels. Although several charitable trusts have already made such a move, most of the public discussion has focused on campaigns directed at universities and businesses.

Senior scientists call on health charities to shift money out of fossil fuels
Senior scientists including former chief advisers to the UK government and European commission have called on the world’s two largest health charities to sell their investments in leading fossil fuel companies. They argue that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust should offload their holdings in major coal, oil and gas corporations because the investments are undermining the charities’ aims. “There’s an anomaly there. It is like giving with the one hand and taking with the other,” said Prof Anne Glover, who was chief scientific adviser to the European commission until last year.

Guardian climate change petition reaches 100k signatures
A Guardian petition which calls for the Wellcome Trust and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to ditch their fossil fuel investments has gathered more than 100,000 signatures since it launched on Monday. The campaign asks the world’s two largest charitable foundations to divest from the top 200 oil, gas and coal companies within five years and to immediately freeze any new investments. It was launched by Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger in partnership with the global climate movement

Environment and Biodiversity

World losing wildlife poaching war
Ground zero in this “wildlife war” is Africa, and the conservationists are losing as animals are slaughtered on an industrial scale to meet demand for horn and ivory in newly affluent Asian countries. Urgent solutions will be debated this week in Kasane, Botswana, as politicians and environmentalists gather for a follow-up to last year’s London conference on the crisis where 46 countries signed up to a “declaration” that promised to address corruption, adopt legislation for tougher penalties against poachers and recruit more law enforcement officers.

Ethiopia burns six tonnes of elephant ivory, vowing ‘zero tolerance’ to poachers
Ethiopia has torched a six-tonne pile of seized elephant ivory, the country’s entire stock, vowing a “zero tolerance” policy towards poachers and traffickers. The torching of the seized stock, which included huge tusks, elaborate carvings, necklaces and bracelets, came two weeks after neighbouring Kenya made a similar gesture aimed at demonstrating renewed commitment to protect Africa’s iconic but dwindling elephant population… Officials said the stock had been accumulated over the past 20 years, and came from elephants slaughtered in Ethiopia or seized at Addis Ababa’s international airport — and represented a black market value of roughly $15 million. Ethiopia’s own elephant population has collapsed during that period, and the most recent estimate puts the population today at just 1,800 animals — with poaching driven mainly by demand in booming Asian economies, especially China.

Forests shrink, with 70 per cent now less than 1 km from edge
Farms, roads and towns are fast slicing up the world’s wilderness, leaving 70 per cent of the world’s remaining forested land less than one km from a forest edge, a US-led study showed. The report, by two dozen researchers on five continents and using data the covers the past 35 years, said a rising human population was putting more pressure on forest animals and plants, which suffer greater risk of extinction as their habitats become fragmented.

Great Barrier Reef: Green groups say 2050 plan does nothing to address climate change
Conservation groups are united in their criticism of the Reef 2050 plan which is designed to protect and save the Great Barrier Reef. The Queensland and federal governments say the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan released on Saturday is a comprehensive, strategic assessment and will protect the Great Barrier Reef. It aims to address key recommendations made by the United Nation’s World Heritage Committee to avoid the site being declared “in danger” by UNESCO… However, Greenpeace and the Australian Marine Conservation Society said while the Reef 2050 Plan had some good intentions it also had major limitations.  Both organisations said the plan did nothing to address climate change, the number one threat to the reef.  Felicity Wishart from the Conservation Society said the plan was a wishlist without any action.

Explainer: what are fundamental particles?
It is often claimed that the Ancient Greeks were the first to identify objects that have no size, yet are able to build up the world around us through their interactions. And as we are able to observe the world in tinier and tinier detail through microscopes of increasing power, it is natural to wonder what these objects are made of. We believe we have found some of these objects: subatomic particles, or fundamental particles, which having no size can have no substructure. We are now seeking to explain the properties of these particles and working to show how these can be used to explain the contents of the universe.

Geckos move from Port Hills to Riccarton Bush
NEW ZEALAND – After being turfed out of their home on the unstable rocky bluffs of the Port Hills 45 Canterbury gecko are now roaming free in Riccarton Bush.  The protected lizards were deposited in their lush new home after being caught during a mass relocation exercise, organised by the Christchurch City Council.  The council opted to relocate the geckos because it is planning major earthworks on the Crater Rim bluffs, above Sumner Rd, to reduce the danger of rockfalls. The earthworks will destroy the geckos’ natural habitat as boulders and rocky outcrops will be blasted away and the land reshaped to create benches.

Pet quolls are practically useless for real-world conservation
Keeping native animals as pets is an idea that’s been around for decades. Notable proponent Professor Mike Archer regards it as a “no-brainer”. Yesterday Senator David Leyonhjelm jumped on the bandwagon by suggesting that Australians choose quolls as alternative pets to cats. Along with our PhD student Trent Forge and colleague Gerhard Körtner, we study the ecology of spotted-tailed quolls, including their interactions with dingoes, foxes and feral cats, in the high country of northern New South Wales. Unsurprisingly, we’re big fans of these charismatic native predators. Despite a sometimes fierce appearance, quolls are typically calm, and recaptured animals readily habituate to humans. The right combination of calm quoll and tolerant human (or perhaps vice versa) would conceivably be a great match. But it might not be so helpful for quolls in the wild.

Scrunchies saving wildlife from being killed by cats: study
A fashion relic of the late eighties and nineties, the humble scrunchie has found a new lease on life preventing the slaughter of wildlife by domestic cats. In a new study, West Australian researchers found putting a scrunchie-like collar on cats reduced the amount of native wildlife killed by more than half. Murdoch University PhD student Catherine Hall spearheaded the research which observed the behaviour of 114 cats for two years.

Economy and Business

Exciting times ahead for sustainable products and materials
The public procurement market in Europe seems set to adopt new EU directives that give a higher status to product labels, standards and certifications, including sustainability labels and ecolabels. The new directives were adopted in February 2014 and EU members are now in a two year phase-in period as the New Procurement Directives are transposed into national legislation by early 2016.  The new directives make explicit reference to the role of labels, including sustainability labels, in technical specifications, award criteria or contract performance conditions in the tendering process. This is recognition of the important role of labels in achieving sustainability aims… Public procurement in the EU is nearly 19 per cent of its GDP and companies and organisations that are compliant with ISEAL’s code of good practice are expected to fulfil the requirements of the EU directives and thus can directly tap into this huge market.

Waste and the Circular Economy

An artistic look at what’s trashing Sydney’s waterwaysSoy-Fish
The Total Environment Centre’s public engagement program, HotHouse, is showcasing the life and anti-life aspects of Sydney’s waterways with a major exhibition at One Central Park in Broadway that opens on March 23. The curator of Waterways, Andrew Tovey, says that few Sydneysiders realise how rapidly the city’s iconic inlets and beaches are being “transformed by synthetic interlopers”, a plastic menace, Phyllum Plastica, that has mutated out of the city’s waste and is inundating watery places.

Politics and Society

The key to our happiness is connection, not competition
There are two different sides to human nature. Both are important, but the balance between them has huge implications for our wellbeing, culture and future. One side of our nature is self-interested. This is our in-built instinct to do whatever we can to survive and thrive, often at the expense of others. The other side is co-operative and leads us to help others even when there is no direct benefit for ourselves. Although Charles Darwin is normally associated with the “survival of the fittest” theory, he also believed that our natural instinct was to care for others… But we have such a strong cultural narrative about the selfish side of humanity that we adopt systems and behaviours that undermine our natural co-operative tendencies.

How businesses can engage consumers in their sustainability stories
Communicating simple, inspiring stories of efforts to tackle complex social and environmental issues is an ongoing challenge for today’s businesses. Somewhere amid the cacophony of sustainability communications, consumers are reaching information overload.  As the effects of corporate ‘greenwashing’, ethical scandals and climate change doom-mongering take their toll, a kind of apathy is taking hold. Globally, just 28% of people believes business is doing enough to protect the planet and contribute to society, according to Accenture and the UN Global Compact


Can social enterprise help 700 million who lack access to clean water?
The problem of global water access is as intransigent as they come. Some 768 million people – more than the population of Europe – still lack access to clean water. Likewise, this year’s Millennium Development Goal target of halving the number of people without sanitation will be missed by 8% – that’s half a billion people. The traditional charity solution has been to turn up, drill a well and leave, presuming the problem’s solved. Jenny Lamb, a sanitation engineer for Oxfam, explains that without the training or market infrastructure for upkeep and maintenance, such pumps “often become neglected and then unusable”. There are signs, however, that business, NGOs and charities working in the WASH arena are increasingly converging around a model that they can all agree on: social enterprise.

World Water Day: the cost of cotton in water-challenged India
You might not realise it, but India exports enormous amounts of water when it exports raw materials such as cotton and products such as automobiles. The water consumed to grow India’s cotton exports in 2013 would be enough to supply 85% of the country’s 1.24 billion people with 100 litres of water every day for a year. Meanwhile, more than 100 million people in India do not have access to safe water.

‘Water man of India’ Rajendra Singh bags top prize
An award known as “the Nobel Prize for water” has been given to an Indian campaigner who has brought water to 1,000 villages. The judges of the Stockholm Water Prize say his methods have also prevented floods, restored soil and rivers, and brought back wildlife. The prize-winner, Rajendra Singh, is dubbed “the Water Man of India”. The judges say his technique is cheap, simple, and that his ideas should be followed worldwide. Mr Singh uses a modern version of the ancient Indian technique of rainwater harvesting.



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