Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Half of all tree species in Amazon ‘face extinction’
More than half of all tree species in the Amazon face extinction, warn international scientists. According to new data, up to 57% of all Amazonian trees may already fit the criteria of being globally threatened. If confirmed, the estimates would raise the number of threatened plant species on Earth by almost a quarter. Forest cover in the Amazon has been shrinking for decades, but little is known about the impact on individual plant species.

Energy and Climate Change

Report: Current climate change solutions can cut a quarter of global emissions
The report from European think-tank Sitra – which is backed by the European Climate Foundation, the World Bank Group and the World Resources Institute (WRI) among eight other organisations – suggests that using 17 proven climate solutions from across the globe, 12 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by 2030. Mikko Kosonen, president of Sitra, said: “We already have climate solutions that are proven to work at the level of nations. How far can we go if we take these to a global scale?

Paris climate talks: NZ agricultural greenhouse gas emissions a tough nut to crack
Agriculture is responsible for producing 48 per cent of New Zealand’s carbon emissions, according to the Environment Ministry. Landcare Research estimates almost two thirds of that is methane produced by belching and farting cattle and sheep. The Crown Research Institute estimates those methane emissions have increased 10 per cent since 1990 as more farms have converted to dairy. It is the biggest blot on New Zealand’s checkered climate change record. On a per-capita basis, the New Zealand economy has the ignominy of the highest methane emissions in the world at 600 kilograms per person – six times the global average.

Avatar director points green-tinted lens at agriculture emissions
There are few films more environmentally infused than the highest grossing one in history, Avatar – in which a highly militarised mining company seeks to exploit the resources of the rich forest world of Pandora. But less known is how the film’s director, James Cameron, who has property in Wairarapa, has also used some of the money made from Avatar to champion an array of green causes, even as he’s also using clean energy to power the film’s three planned sequels.

Paris 2015: Soaring temperatures in hot October to prompt a record overhaul
As French authorities scramble to deal with the fallout of the terrorist attacks in Paris, thousands of organisers and participants for this month’s global climate summit in the same city are also racing to be ready. Among those making last-minute adjustments are likely to be climate scientists at the World Meteorological Organisation, which is expected to announce 2015 as the hottest year on record, even with a full month to run.

Paris 2015: UN Conference on Climate Change

Timeline: UN climate negotiations
1988 marked the first mainstream call for climate action from scientists. It’s been a bumpy ride over nearly 30 years to the upcoming UN climate summit in Paris.

Yes, the Paris climate change conference can save the planet | Ed Miliband (Opinion)
“The deal’s dead.” These were the words of my chief negotiator, approximately six years ago, in the middle of the night in the final hours of the sleep-deprived Copenhagen summit. I was standing in my bedroom as I took his call, about to go to bed for the first time in 36 hours. Thanks to the efforts of a number of countries into the night and the next day, it turned out the deal wasn’t quite dead, and something did survive.

What’s really at stake at the Paris climate conference now marches are banned | Naomi Klein
Whose security gets protected by any means necessary? Whose security is casually sacrificed, despite the means to do so much better? Those are the questions at the heart of the climate crisis, and the answers are the reason climate summits so often end in acrimony and tears. The French government’s decision to ban protests, marches and other “outdoor activities” during the Paris climate summit is disturbing on many levels. The one that preoccupies me most has to do with the way it reflects the fundamental inequity of the climate crisis itself – and that core question of whose security is ultimately valued in our lopsided world.

Paris climate talks: ‘Six years on, climate change is killing fish, flooding our fields’
They are humanity’s hope for tomorrow, but each faces a future that looks increasing bleak and uncertain. Born in four different parts of the globe, these children came into the world in the weeks leading up to the Copenhagen climate conference in December 2009. At the time, the Observer described the lives of these young people as their families struggled to cope with the impact of climate change. Now, before the Paris climate summit at the end of the month, we have returned to meet those children and show how they have lived with the consequences of the 2009 Copenhagen summit’s failure to reach a deal to limit nations’ outputs of greenhouse gases.

Environment and Biodiversity

How Fire, Once a Friend of Forests, Became a Destroyer
This summer, eye-watering smoke hung over much of the western United States, and flames threatened homes, towns, and even the giant sequoias of Kings Canyon National Park. By mid-November, wildfires had burned 9.8 million acres across the country, and 2015 was on track to become the biggest fire year in at least a decade. Rising temperatures, drought, and dense forests created by decades of fire suppression are contributing to larger, faster-moving wildfires. And as more people move into the woods, fires of all sizes are becoming more dangerous and destructive. (Check out an interactive map of this year’s fires.) Historian Stephen Pyne has watched this crisis develop for almost half a century.

Fading stars: India’s illegal tortoise trade – in pictures
The ‘shocking’ scale of illegal trade in star tortoises in southern India has been revealed in a study published in the journal Nature Conservation. A large-scale network, fuelled by growing international demand for exotic pets, is causing extreme suffering to the animals and threatening the survival of the species, researchers warn. In one site alone, at least 55,000 tortoises were poached from the wild in one year

Pests push native birds to brink
NEW ZEALAND – The loss of our native birds from the wild has been revealed in its full extent for the first time, with a bleak and sweeping stock-take showing major hits for most endemic species. But keeping our birds in large numbers can be achieved for a realistic price, says the Landcare Research scientist who has presented the startling figures to top ecologists. A comparison of monitoring data, collected over periods in the 1970s and early 2000s, showed significant falls in well-known species such as brown kiwi, kokako, kaka, rifleman, tomtit and blue duck, or whio.

Cat capping, cat chipping and cat curfews proposed for Wellington
NEW ZEALAND – Cats owners beware – Wellington City Council is getting ready to pounce. The council is pondering new laws to stop felines from killing the city’s native wildlife. It has proposed limiting the number of cats per household to three or less, public education to keep cats inside from 7pm to 7am, and tagging cats with microchips. Wellington’s existing Animals Bylaw does not place any restrictions on cat ownership. But the council is aware of reports of domestic and feral cats killing native birds and other native animals across the city.

Vineyard flying squad of NZ falcons celebrates first year
Two fierce predators on the loose in south Wairarapa have endeared themselves so much to wine producers that they’re introducing three more.  The New Zealand bush falcons, or karearea, will be brought to Martinborough in December, after a successful trial last year designed to reduce the damage done by starlings and other pest birds to the region’s grapes.

Myna bird: Queenslanders urged to help eradicate ‘rats of the sky’
AUSTRALIA – Eradicating the common myna bird is an impossible task unless all Queenslanders work together, according to environmentalist Ed Parker. Mr Parker, coordinator of the Pooh Corner Environment Centre, said the common myna was one nasty critter.

Bee behaviour raises pollination fears
Acommon pesticide could hinder bumblebees’ ability to pollinate plants, says a new study – and that could be a big problem for both agriculture and the natural ecosystems that depend on the bees for survival. A paper published on Thursday in the journal Nature tested the effects of a pesticide called thiamethoxam on the ability of bumblebees to pollinate apple trees.

Economy and Business

10 Nifty New Things That Could Make Our Homes Smarter and Greener
Washington, D.C.—A slew of new products, including bacteria-eating paint and Apple Watch-controlled lighting, could transform how our homes work in the future. They don’t just save energy and water. They also could help avoid bird deaths, remove pollutants from the air, keep homes running during power outages, and provide safe drinking water to poor people worldwide. While some are high-tech and high-end, others are simple and cheap. Here’s a look at 10 showcased at this year’s Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, an annual meeting of the private U.S. Green Building Council that ended Friday in the nation’s capital.

Big four banks look to bolster climate credentials
World leaders are preparing to meet in Paris at the end of the month to thrash out a new agreement on climate change. But in a bid to get ahead of any international obligations — and to bolster their green credentials — Australia’s major banks have all recently outlined their own commitments to cut emissions

Waste and the Circular Economy

Levi’s and Goodwill Are Making It Easier to Donate Clothes This Holiday Season
Only 15 percent of textile waste is donated or recycled in the United States. About 21 billion pounds of clothing, footwear, towels, bedding, drapery, and other textiles end up in American landfills every year, which adds up to more than 5 percent of the country’s municipal solid waste. At the same time, textile recyclers claim that up to 95 percent of textiles can be reused or recycled.

EU drops food waste and marine litter reduction targets, leak reveals
The EU has dropped a plan to pressure countries into cutting food waste and marine litter by nearly a third, documents seen by the Guardian show. The law would have obliged countries to reduce food waste 30% by 2025 with national strategies for their retail, distribution, manufacturing and hospitality and household sectors.

Politics and Society

Contentious politics: Hobbes, Machiavelli and corporate power
Political protesters often don’t play by the rules. Think of the Occupy Movement, which brought lower Manhattan to a standstill in 2011 under the slogan, “We are the 99%”. Closer to home, think of the refugee activists who assisted a breakout from South Australia’s Woomera detention centre in 2002. Both are examples of contentious politics, or forms of political engagement outside the institutional channels of political decision-making.

Greens set 90% renewables target for 2030, aim to double efficiency of grid
The Australian Greens have committed to a renewable energy target for Australia of at least 90 per cent by 2030, and to create a $1 billion fund to transition the nation’s energy sector away from coal. In the party’s new energy roadmap to be released on Sunday, known as Renew Australia, the Greens also promises to deliver an electricity grid in 2030 that twice as efficient as it is now, and deliver a 15 year pipeline of clean energy projects through a combination of reverse auctions and direct investment.

The sugar cane workers of Nicaragua and El Salvador – in pictures
Sugar cane workers across Central America have been dying in their thousands from chronic kidney disease. US photojournalist Ed Kashi visited Nicaragua and El Salvador on behalf of NGO Solidaridad to capture their working conditions. Sugar cane cutters are dying on a large scale in Central America from chronic kidney disease (CKD) and studies are pointing to working conditions as the cause. In the past 10 years, 20,000 people have died in Nicaragua and El Salvador alone as a result of CKD, which studies suggest is caused by dehydration, heat exposure and physical stress.

Built Environment

Australian all-electric bus drives into record books – 1,018km on one charge
The buses combine a high performance lithium ion battery with proprietary eMotor, battery management and a regenerative braking system. As part of the Melbourne launch, one bus – which is certified to international standards to drive 1004km on one charge (more than twice any current competitors) —  successfully completed a road-trip to Sydney. Last weekend, this same bus backed up its inter-state performance with a world-record breaking effort, travelling 1,018km on Victoria’s South Gippsland Highway, between Tooradin and Lang Lang.

MPs call for diesel cars scrappage scheme to tackle air pollution
UK – The government should consider a scrappage scheme for diesel cars to get polluting vehicles off the streets of England’s cities, where they contribute to tens of thousands of premature deaths every year, according to an influential committee of MPs.  The call echoes a proposal from London Mayor Boris Johnson who has suggested up to £2,000 per car could be paid to get 150,000 diesels off the capital’s roads.

Solar-Powered PreFab Can Pop Up In Three Days
Prefab homes are gradually gaining momentum as a potential construction solution for the future. The latest to be unveiled is the Unity home, an affordable net-zero home that can pop up in less than three days, but should have durability equal to standard construction techniques. The Unity home was constructed in collaboration with BUILDER magazine and the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, claims to be “outfitted with the largest collection of Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certified building products ever used in a residential project”. The home is designed to be cost competitive in the market, priced at around US$150 per square foot.

NZ: Wynyard Central showcases new HomeStar tool in action
The first development to be rated under the NZ Green Building Council’s Homestar v3 tool has achieved a minimum of 7 Homestar Design for 113 dwellings in Auckland’s Wynyard Central, including apartments, pavilions and townhouses…. Making the homes greener and more energy efficient only means about a 3.5 per cent increase in the build cost compared to code minimum, according to David Fullbrook, director of the project’s sustainability consultants, eCubed Building Works.

Food Systems

Melbourne food swap groups bringing communities together with home-grown produce
Food swap gatherings where grassroots gardeners come together and exchange their home-grown fruit and vegetables are sprouting up around Melbourne’s suburbs. The idea encourages people to meet, usually once a month, to share home-made produce and have a chat with other green thumbs in their community.

Catch of the day: the TPP might be good news for sustainable fisheries
Since the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) text was released earlier this month, commentators have sought to assess its impact on the environment. They have expressed concerns about the enhanced rights it provides for investors, and criticised the absence of climate change mitigation in its provisions. However, the TPP does contain clauses that can enable countries to combat another global environmental crisis: overfishing.


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