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Tuesday 24 October 2017

Sustainable Development News

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

Here’s What You Need to Know About Half-Earth Day
Species are declining faster than ever, yet 86 percent of them may still be unknown. Studies say the extinction rate is now so high the Earth is entering its sixth mass extinction—but one group of scientists has a plan for how to keep it from getting worse. Half the planet. That’s the amount of protected marine and land habitats some scientists say is needed to save 80 percent of the world’s species. It’s one of environmentalists’ most ambitious conservation dreams. For a time, it remained little more than a theory. But now a group of prominent scientists have a plan for how to actually reach this goal, and they plan to unveil it Monday at an event called “Half Earth Day.”

See also: First Half-Earth Day Offers a Chance to Halt Species Extinction by E.O. Wilson

Climate Change and Energy

New York’s future could feature hurricanes atop drastically higher seas, scientists warn
New York City’s ability to withstand hurricanes could hinge on the state of the Antarctic ice sheet some 8,000 miles away, according to a study published Monday. Using computer projections to simulate thousands of storms in potential future climates, researchers found that storms would be more likely to swerve away from the city. The trouble is the storms that do hit will, on average, be more powerful. And all storms that hit New York, regardless of their power, will start at a higher baseline, as they’ll be traveling on seas that have risen due to climate change. The result is that the risk of a storm similar to Hurricane Sandy has gone from a one-in-500-years event in 1800 to a one-in-25-years event today. By the period between 2030 and 2045, such storms could become a one-in-five-years event, according to the projections.\

Environment and Biodiversity

Wildlife conservation, sustainable development in spotlight at UN-backed conference
Unless the international community integrates wildlife conservation with sustainable development, it will not be able to protect the remaining animal species on Earth, the head of a United Nations-backed environmental treaty today said at the opening of a wildlife conference in the Philippines.

Kea crowned bird of the year
NEW ZEALAND – The “cheeky” green parrot that can be seen in the forest and alpine regions of the South Island has been crowned Bird of the Year. The kea, which has been described as an intelligent, inquisitive bird took out the top prize in the Forest and Bird annual competition. Despite winning the bird popularity contest, the mountain parrots are facing a battle of survival. Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands they are now classified as nationally endangered: only an estimated 3000-7000 birds remain in the wild. Photographs of endangered species in a beautiful book by Tim Flach

Tim Flach’s endangered species – in pictures (Book)
Tim Flach sees his Hasselblad H4D-60 camera as a means to its end: capturing the character and emotions of an animal. Until now his interest has been in the way humans shape animals, but in his new book, Endangered, he poses the question of what these animals, and their potential disappearance, mean to us.

Economy and Business

Should central banks have a ‘representative of the poor’?
The Reserve Bank of Australia should have a board member whose job it is to “represent the poor”, says Catholic Social Services Australia in a report released this week.  This hasn’t been tried before but it’s an interesting proposal and worth considering – particularly as recent central banking programs like quantitative easing have inflated the value of assets belonging to the very rich, exacerbating inequality and even threatening democracy. The report is part of a continued effort by Catholic Social Services Australia to draw attention to those disenfranchised by an increasingly winner-takes-all society. In fact, the entire notion of “trickle-down economics”, in which poorer sections of society supposedly benefit from policies that help the rich, is increasingly disputed.

Rethinking tourism and its contribution to conservation in New Zealand
About three million international visitors arrive in New Zealand each year, adding NZ$15 billion to the economy. At least half explore a national park or protected area (PA), but they contribute very little to these conservation lands. Government policies implemented since 2009 as part of a “conservation economy” vision aimed to stimulate economic growth by opening up business access to national parks.  Contracts have been granted with an expectation that businesses that benefit from New Zealand’s natural capital would bring environmental and infrastructural gains. My research finds no evidence of such improvements. Here I propose how businesses could help to make nature tourism more sustainable.

Innovative trucks help Smurfit Kappa slash supply chain emissions
SWEDEN: Global packaging firm Smurfit Kappa has pioneered innovative new trucks which are claimed to have slashed emissions by 20% and reduced the number of annual trips by almost one-third.\

Ed: I would note that this is a story of a transition to sustainability, an example of a company being ‘less-bad’ – but it’s a start, right?

Waste and the Circular Economy

5 disruptive technologies driving the circular economy
As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, new technologies carry immense opportunities to transform the way we do business. These technologies are driving new ways of creating value in a circular economy, for both emerging and established businesses alike. Given the fragility of the linear economy, based on its reliance on finite natural resources for growth, and as we move ever closer to the brink of our planet’s boundaries, it seems companies with their heads in the clouds could be the key to unlocking the value in a regenerative, recycling economy.

China bans foreign waste – but what will happen to the world’s recycling?
The dominant position that China holds in global manufacturing means that for many years China has also been the largest global importer of many types of recyclable materials. Last year, Chinese manufacturers imported 7.3m metric tonnes of waste plastics from developed countries including the UK, the EU, the US and Japan. However, in July 2017, China announced big changes in the quality control placed on imported materials, notifying the World Trade Organisation that it will ban imports of 24 categories of recyclables and solid waste by the end of the year.

Balloon release at Bunbury school graduation sparks backlash from green groups
A school in Western Australian [sic] is under fire from environmental groups after releasing helium balloons to celebrate a Year 12 class graduation. The students’ celebration at Manea Senior College in Bunbury has prompted calls for balloon releases to be classed as littering, and be banned.

Politics and Society

1922 note reveals Albert Einstein’s theory of happiness
A note that Albert Einstein gave to a courier in Tokyo, briefly describing his theory on happy living, has surfaced after 95 years and is up for auction in Jerusalem.

New Zealand’s new coalition pushes all the green buttons
It was Labour Day in New Zealand on Monday –maybe fittingly so. Labour’s brand new prime minister Jacinta [sic] Ardern had spent the weekend in media briefings laying down the new political landscape for New Zealand. One that slightly shell shocked observers world wide were guessing could be as scene stealing as when NZ declared it would be nuclear free. The initial raft of promises from Ardern in a coalition of Labour, Zealand First and The Greens includes great news on the environment, with a commitment to go net zero carbon by 2050 and another to lift the quality of the country’s notoriously poor housing stock.

30 reasons to question the National Energy Guarantee. And it’s not just politics
AUSTRALIA – The consensus from large swathes of the mainstream media appears to be clear: the Turnbull government’s new climate and energy policy, known as the National Energy Guarantee, has been approved by the Coalition party room, therefore it must be OK… But that is the problem with the NEG. It is actually not policy at all, but just the idea of one. And attractive as it may be to some on a notional level, it is a long way short of being “workable”. It is actually just a political document, rather than a policy one, and it should be treated as such.

Victoria Renewable Energy Target written into law, without support of LNP
AUSTRALIA – Victoria has become the first state in Australia to have its renewable energy target written into law, after the Labor Andrews government’s Renewable Energy (Jobs & Investment) Bill was passed by Parliament on Friday. State energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio said on Friday the governments’ VRET of 25 per cent renewable energy by 2020, and 40 per cent by 2025, had passed the Legislative Council with 20 votes to 18, and despite not winning a single vote from the opposition Coalition party.

Americans want a tax on carbon pollution, but how to get one?
USA – According to a new study published by Yale scientists in Environmental Research Letters, Americans are willing to pay a carbon tax that would increase their household energy bills by $15 per month, or about 15%, on average. This result is consistent with a survey from last year that also found Americans are willing to pay an average of $15 to $20 per month to combat climate change. Another recent Yale survey found that overall, 78% of registered American voters support taxing and/or regulating carbon pollution, including 67% of Republicans and 60% of conservative Republicans.

EPA kept scientists from speaking about climate change at Rhode Island event
USA – The Environmental Protection Agency kept three scientists from speaking at a Rhode Island event about a report that deals in part with climate change. The scientists were expected to discuss in Providence on Monday a report on the health of Narragansett Bay, New England’s largest estuary. The EPA did not explain exactly why the scientists were told not to.

See also: Protests after EPA stopped scientists from presenting climate change research 

High aspirations: What’s next for Rocky Mountain Institute
If you classify Rocky Mountain Institute as a think tank, you’re half right. But these days, the mission of achieving “impact” quickly and at scale holds as much value for the non-profit as bold ideas or data-rich market analysis. Backed with a budget of $40 million this fiscal year — more than twice what RMI worked with annually in 2013 — the institute founded by physicist Amory Lovins (still chief scientist and chairman emeritus) is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year by reenergizing its decades-long crusade to wean the electric, transportation, industrial and real estate sectors off fossil fuels the old-fashioned way, by helping them see the profit in doing so.

See also: RMI @ 35: A conversation with Amory Lovins

Built Environment

Environmentally friendly vehicle consumers being ripped off, ‘real-world’ testing shows
Australian car consumers are being provided with poor information when it comes to buying environmentally friendly vehicles, the Australia Automobile Association (AAA) has found. The AAA tested a snapshot of the most popular cars on our roads, testing under real-world conditions rather than what is current practice, in a laboratory…. But the environment group Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) was sceptical of the AAA report. “We’re concerned the AAA is using this is as a bit of a distraction to stop the introduction of vehicle emission standards currently under review by a Ministerial Forum.”

Here’s a link to ACF’s petition to make it easy to add your voice in support of the introduction of vehicle emission standards in Australia. 

The Big Read: Our slow-moving disaster as sea level rises
NEW ZEALAND – Dave Cull calls it a slow-moving disaster. That might be a tired cliche to describe climate change – a quick Google search will find you more than 300,000 similar references – but Cull can use it with a great degree of candour. The Dunedin mayor is already reckoning with the monster. South Dunedin – home to about 10,000 residents, 12 schools, six rest homes and an aged wastewater and stormwater system – sits across a spread of low-lying flats between Otago Harbour and the Pacific Ocean.

Flooding on Auckland's Tamaki Drive. Auckland has around 1,360 homes, 60 businesses and 56km of roads within 150cm of spring high tide. Photo / File

Flooding on Auckland’s Tamaki Drive. Auckland has around 1,360 homes, 60 businesses and 56km of roads within 150cm of spring high tide. Photo / File

Forestry calls for wooden public buildings
NEW ZEALAND – The new government could help revive forestry by favouring wooden buildings, the Wood Council of New Zealand says. Commercial forestry has been struggling and there are concerns about the environmental impact of cement and steel. Wood Council chairman Brian Stanley said the new administration was well placed to help. “Modern high rise buildings can be built of wood. They are doing it all over the world now – 16, 20, 30 storeys high,” he said. “There is no reason why when the government is building new schools or office blocks they can’t use wood that is currently going offshore.”

Food Systems

Micro solutions for a macro problem: How marine algae could help feed the world
Our planet faces a growing food crisis. According to the United Nations, more than 800 million people are regularly undernourished. By 2050, an additional 2 to 3 billion new guests will join the planetary dinner table.  Meeting this challenge involves not only providing sufficient calories for every person, but also assuring a balanced diet that includes the protein and nutrients that are essential to good health. In a newly published study, we explain how marine microalgae could be a sustainable solution for solving global macro-hunger.

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