Sustainable Development News

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

Government finally admits it is subsidising nuclear – while cutting help for renewables
UK – “The government confirms that it is not continuing the ‘no public subsidy policy’ [for nuclear power] of the previous administration.” That little footnote, tucked away at the end of the announcement of Wednesday’s French-Chinese deal to build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley point, detonates an atomic bomb under the UK government’s already bewildering energy policy and leaves ministers hunkered down in a nuclear bunker. Just the day before, energy minister Andrea Leadsom said: “It is vital that industries over time stand on their own two feet. I don’t think anyone here would advocate an industry that only survives because of a subsidy paid by the billpayer.” She was justifying 87% cuts to subsidies for solar power, just as they are on the verge of becoming cheaper than gas.

Energy and Climate Change

Permafrost warming in parts of Alaska ‘is accelerating’
One of the world’s leading experts on permafrost has told BBC News that the recent rate of warming of this frozen layer of earth is “unbelievable”. Prof Vladimir Romanovsky said that he expected permafrost in parts of Alaska would start to thaw by 2070. Researchers worry that methane frozen within the permafrost will be released, exacerbating climate change…  “When we started measurements it was -8C, but now it’s coming to almost -2.5 on the Arctic coast. It is unbelievable – that’s the temperature we should have here in central Alaska around Fairbanks but not there,” he told BBC News.

Fossil fuel giants still betting trillions on nothing changing
The multi-trillion dollar global fossil fuel industry continues to believe that nothing much will change, despite the push to lock in ambitious climate policies in Paris next month, and the emergence of new technologies that completely change the energy market. A new report “Lost in Transition, How the energy sector is missing potential demand destruction” from the London-based Carbon Tracker Initiative points out that Big Oil, and Big Coal, want investors to back their multi-billion dollar projects on the basis of a false hope: that nothing will change.

The long-term future of Australian coal is drying up
With the recent re-approval of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, debate over the future of coal has reached fever pitch again. Green groups have argued that Australia should account for the climate impacts of burning coal produced in the country. Meanwhile, the government has once again come out in support of coal to provide cheap power to developing nations. It can be hard to make sense of the different sides. In a paper recently published in Energy Research and Social Science, I looked at the long-term future for coal in Australia. My research suggests the current coal woes are just the beginning.

Wind and solar power likely to match gas on cost by 2020, say UK climate advisers
Onshore wind and large solar farms are likely to be competitive on cost with gas-fired power generation by the end of this decade, according to the government’s climate change advisers, but only if gas pays its fair share through a carbon price.

Former foes Greenpeace and energy giant Enel stand together in low-carbon push
Just a year ago the Italian energy giant Enel was in a bitter court battle with Greenpeace, which accused the utility’s coal plant pollution of killing people. Today, the two groups are firm friends and Greenpeace says Enel is on track to be the “first truly green energy giant”. What changed was the observation by new Enel CEO, Francesco Starace, that the tide was flowing in only one direction for utilities – towards low-carbon energy – thanks to fast-dropping renewable energy costs, smarter and more-efficient grids and increasing government action on climate change.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Auckland University Student Association endorses call for divestment
University of Auckland students are intensifying a push to encourage the university to divest from harmful industries such as fossil fuels, gun manufacturers and tobacco. The Auckland University Student Association voted to endorse the call for divestment after Fossil Free University of Auckland staged a mock “Unethical Stock Market” at the general meeting on Wednesday 21 October.

MIT unveils plan to fight climate change but will not divest from fossil fuels
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced a five-year plan on Wednesday to combat climate change but said it will not divest its $12.4bn endowment from fossil fuels, despite pressure from students and a campus committee.

Environment and Biodiversity

Vultures in crisis: poachers and poison threaten nature’s garbage disposers
Vultures are nature’s garbage disposers. They’re perfectly adapted to keep the environment clean and healthy by efficiently locating and consuming carcasses, recycling energy through the food web and preventing the spread of diseases. It’s an unpaid role. However it’s about time we did start repaying vultures for their services, by giving them the protection they deserve.

Beecroft residents appeal to state government to purchase powerful owl habitat
AUSTRALIA – Just 26 minutes’ drive from the CBD lives Mikey, the powerful owl. The fluffy white chick is the latest addition to a family of powerful owls in the Lane Cove National Park, a rare bird. Listed on the vulnerable species register, powerful owls grow up to 60cm in height, feed on a possum a day and require large tracts of wooded territory with trees around 150 years old in which they nest. But along the Byles Creek Valley in Beecroft where Mikey and his family live,  residents are worried a proposed residential development will encroach on the space the birds need.

Palau approves huge Pacific marine sanctuary
The tiny western Pacific archipelago of Palau has approved the creation of a marine sanctuary twice the size of Mexico. Conservationists said the 500,000 sq km (193,000 sq mile) sanctuary would be the world’s sixth-largest fully protected area – meaning no fishing, or other uses such as drilling for oil – if it is signed into law by Palau’s president as expected on Monday.

Tourists Can’t Tell If an Attraction Is Bad for Animals
In the first major study of wildlife tourism around the world, researchers at the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit—the same group that had been studying Cecil the Lion before he was shot in July—found that the millions of people who visit wildlife attractions each year don’t seem to realize that places they’re visiting have ill effects on animals. Wildlife attractions account for between 20 and 40 percent of all tourism worldwide, with 3.6 to six million people visiting these sites annually. The study found that every year two to four million tourists financially support attractions that aren’t good for animal welfare or conservation. And it found that 80 percent of reviewers didn’t recognize that certain wildlife attractions weren’t good for the animals.

Explainer: 98% Pure NZ
NEW ZEALAND – The government released a gigantic report on our environment on Wednesday, covering everything from air quality to cow urine, but you haven’t read it yet, have you? Don’t feel bad. It’s very long and full of graphs. We’ve answered some of the common questions you might have on the report below.

Sam Judd: Save our shores and celebrate the Hauraki Gulf
…For more than two lifespans, we have been biting the hands that feed us and in 2011, the Hauraki Gulf Forum’s State of the Environment Report found that “most environmental indicators either showing negative trends or remaining at levels which are indicative of poor environmental condition.” But the good news is that, although it will take a very long time to fix up the problems of our past, some of the “bold, sustained and innovative steps” that the 2011 report called for have seen some great success.

Fishermen support seabird safety moves
NEW ZEALAND – Commercial fishers have swapped tips and techniques to keep seabirds away from their boats during a half-day workshop in Nelson this week. “Local fishermen are already aware of the need to keep seabirds safe from harm while they’re out on the water, but the workshop opened our eyes to some new ideas,” skipper of the Altair Fishing boat Strike Force, Mike Smith.

Australian birds a lot smarter than we might think
Australian birds have a lot to teach us about living long and happy lives according to Professor Gisela Kaplan from the Centre for Neuroscience and Animal Behaviour at the University of New England. “There are various levels at which we’ve grossly underestimated the intelligence of animals,” she said when speaking to ABC Central Victoria. Professor Kaplan has studied countless birds, including her own 75-year-old galah, and said that many shared similar traits to humans.

Economy and Business

What’s Fueling the World’s Biggest Ivory Market?
A new report by WildAid, an international nongovernmental organization that aims to eliminate illegal wildlife trade, together with undercover video by independent investigators provided to WildAid and WWF-Hong Kong, exposes how Hong Kong’s legal ivory market fuels ivory smuggling and elephant poaching. Hong Kong is the world’s largest retail market for elephant ivory, with licensed businesses in high-rent tourist areas displaying more than 30,000 ivory items for sale—more than any other city in the world. Hong Kong is also a major transit hub for illegal ivory.

Climate change slams global economy, study from Stanford and Berkeley shows
Climate change could cause 10 times as much damage to the global economy as previously estimated, slashing output by as much as 23 per cent by the end of the century, a new research paper from US universities Stanford and Berkeley finds. Looking at 166 countries between 1960 and 2010, the researchers identified an optimal average annual temperature that coincides with peak productivity. It’s 13 degrees celsius, or approximately the climate of San Francisco’s bay area (Sydney’s mean temperature last year was 19.3 degrees).

Lynne Ceeney on the “golden thread” of sustainability
Sustainability is “the golden thread” that winds through the entire value chain of a building, infrastructure or a city, according to Lynne Ceeney, global head of sustainability for WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff. But the task is getting clients to realise it is more easily undertaken before projects go to tender, otherwise it gets perceived as an expensive “bolt-on”. Ms Ceeney is in Australia this month as part of the company’s launch of a new sustainability strategy, one that includes a commitment through the World Green Building Council to push the low carbon buildings agenda at COP21 in Paris. Cartoon -VW engineer's new job

Want Your Brand to Survive? View Purpose as an Asset, Not a Cost
Recently, I was invited for a panel discussion on the future in brand communication at the renowned faculty of advertising and marketing, the ESPM, in São Paulo. I shared my view that society nowadays demands brands to positively contribute to the solution of societal issues. One of the questions raised was: “All very nice, but is it in companies not all about the financial results at the end of the month? So is the investment in purpose not the first cut a brand faces when financial results are down?” Driving a purpose is still often seen as only a cost. It is seen as the equivalent of putting money aside for Corporate Social Responsibility and looked upon as a necessary marketing juice to quench the thirst for more sales or as armour against probing questions on the brands’ role.

How a small office in Jamaica might be our best hope for regulating deep sea mining
Mining the deep oceans for minerals may soon become a reality. The deep seabed holds untapped deposits of minerals such as gold, copper, cobalt, and rare earth elements. Although mining has not yet started, exploration work for these deposits is underway across the world’s oceans, and we are seeing momentum towards the development of a new industry with the first Asia-Pacific Deep Sea Mining Summit held in Singapore in September.

[Ed: This screams to me of the need to accelerate the recycling and reuse of precious metals and elements; the urgent need to develop a circular, cradle to cradle, design when making products; and end the wasteful practice of using so much effort to get metals and minerals out of the earth only to throw them back there into landfill.)

Waste and the Circular Economy

Less can be more, but endless is most | Conversation with William McDonough
We can look at the history of design to inform us about where we’ve been and where we want to go. Over time, master storytellers and documentarians have wanted to tell the Cradle to Cradle story, and have tried, but they often come back to us, saying, “It’s really hard to tell a simple story as a documentary filmmaker about Cradle to Cradle because it’s hard to find the beginning, the middle and the end.” That makes me laugh. Of course, you’re not going to find the beginning, middle and end; that’s the point. The irony extends to the issues of design itself because we are designing for endlessness, and that’s really interesting. When the language changes, the optics change.

Zero Waste Europe: EPR Needs Redesigning to Facilitate Circular Economy
A new study commissioned by Zero Waste Europe has found that the majority of product waste is not covered by current extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes and calls for the redesigning of producer responsibility in order to move towards a circular economy.

Politics and Society

Trending: Celebrities Raising Awareness for Environmental Issues Through Virtual Media
How do video games and virtual reality play into climate change action? Ask Grammy award-winning producer and musician Pharrell Williams and Oscar-winning actor and singer Jared Leto, who are trying to engage people and raise awareness through virtual media.

Fight climate change for global stability, say US defence and diplomacy elite
Nearly 50 leaders of America’s defence and foreign policy establishment are calling on political and business leaders to “think past tomorrow” and lead the fight on climate change. In a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal the experts – 48 former secretaries of state and defense, national security advisers, diplomats and members of Congress from both parties – say it is time for America to claim global leadership on climate change.

£1 solar rescue plan gets cross-party backing
UK – A plan to ‘save the solar industry’ by adding £1 on to consumer bills has received support from a cross-party coalition of 30 MPs.  The plan, proposed by the Solar Trade Association, would significantly reduce the cuts suggested by the Government in its consultation on the Feed-in Tariff.

Built Environment

Green public housing fights sick building syndrome
Creating sustainable public housing has obvious environmental benefits, though researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health have uncovered strong evidence that it also reduces “sick building syndrome”. The research, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that asthma outcomes – hospitalisations, attacks and missed school days – for children in green low-income housing were also lower than in standard public housing.

Story of an off-grid home: Intention + Design + Action = The future
An intention to stop contributing to unsustainable and polluting energy sources, combined with a desire to connect directly with nature, led Kerry Dawborn to a create a 55 sqm off-grid home in Cockatoo, Victoria, that was built to last. The other essential ingredient was careful attention to the embodied energy of the property, particularly the building materials, solar and energy storage system.


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