Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Brazil and Germany team up on climate change and deforestation
Germany has pledged €550m to help Brazil’s deforestation and energy efficiency programmes as part of a new climate change agreement between the two countries.  Following Angela Merkel’s state visit to Brasilia on Thursday, the two countries issued a joint statement calling for an ambitious agreement at the Paris climate talks in December. Brazil President Dilma Rousseff promised to end deforestation by 2030, while Germany also donated €23m to help Brazil establish a rural land registry aimed at increasing monitoring of the Amazon. “Brazil is the key to all goals related to the climate,” said Merkel. She added that the biodiversity of the rainforest was as important as its carbon absorption.

Energy and Climate Change

Cutting back on wasted electricity is the cleanest power source of all – as our household shows
A few years ago, I couldn’t read an energy bill beyond the charge levied. I couldn’t tell you how energy was measured, or ultimately how its use related to making my life better or worse, let alone how it affected broader society and the planet. I resolved to change this. I studied energy and sustainability at university, and have gone on to teach there. Throughout this time my wife and I have made many changes to how we use energy at home. Yet when we decided to take a closer look into our electricity bill, we were surprised by what we found. There are three of us in our household now, since our son was born last year. Notwithstanding that, our metered electricity use continued to go down, coming in a little under what it was the same time the previous year.

Records sizzle in global warming
Earth just keeps getting hotter. July was the planet’s warmest month on record, smashing old marks, United States weather officials said. And it’s almost certain that this year will be the warmest year on record, they said. July’s average temperature was 16.6C, beating the previous global mark set in 1998 and 2010 by about one-seventh of a degree, according to figures released yesterday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s a large margin for weather records, with previous monthly heat records broken by a 20th of a degree or less.

Paris 2015: Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions show ‘disturbing increase’ amid record global heat
The Abbott government says Australia remains on track to lower greenhouse gas emissions even though total pollution edged higher in the March quarter compared with a year earlier. The latest quarterly figures skipped over the December quarter, with the Environment Department telling Fairfax Media it was too busy to compile and release separate year-end totals.

Canberra to run entirely on renewable energy by 2025, leading Australia in targets
Canberra will be powered entirely by renewable energy by 2025, the ACT Government has announced.  The ACT has already committed to a target of 90 per cent renewable energy within the next five years and has backed a series of large-scale wind and solar projects both locally and interstate. Environment Minister Simon Corbell said shifting the target to 100 per cent would make Canberra a leader both nationally and abroad.

Clean, green New Zealand falls behind Australia on climate change
Emission-slashing pledges by countries including the United States have experts questioning if New Zealand’s recently-announced climate change target is as fair and ambitious as it was described to be. Even the carbon tax-scrapping Australians will do more than New Zealand to address climate change. Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, who made an election promise to drop the controversial tax, pledged on 12 August to cut Australia’s greenhouse gases by 20% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. That contrasts with the 11% below the 1990 target, set by the New Zealand government last month.

Indian PM Narendra Modi offers solar power to Pacific island nations during summit
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi has offered to illuminate thousands of homes in Pacific island nations with solar power in a bid to help them combat climate change and natural disasters. Mr Modi made the pledge as leaders and delegates of 14 Pacific nations gathered in the western desert state of Rajasthan for a summit. Host India is attempting to boost its profile in the Pacific, at a time of growing Chinese economic and political influence in the region. “We now commit… to provide solar electrification to 2,800 houses — 200 houses in each Pacific island country,” Mr Modi said, after highlighting India’s own plans to ramp up its renewable energy to 175,000 megawatts by 2022.

Environment and Biodiversity

Tropical forests will still exist in 2100 – but they will be a sorry sight
By the end of the century, the world’s remaining tropical forests will be left in a fragmented, simplified, and degraded state. No patch will remain untouched – most remnants will be overrun by species that disperse well, which often means “weedy” plants like fast-growing pioneer trees and small rodents that thrive in disturbed areas. Most of the rest will be “the living dead” – tiny remnant populations of plants and animals hanging on with no future. There is no cast-iron law that dictates this scenario – but it appears likely unless we see a series of major policy changes. What could unfold? In research published in the journal Science, colleagues and I outline an all too common chain of events.

Are jellyfish going to take over the oceans?
Like a karmic device come to punish our planetary transgressions, jellyfish thrive on the chaos humans create. Overfishing wipes out their competitors and predators; warmer water from climate change encourages the spread of some jellies; pollution from fertilisers causes the ocean to lose its oxygen, a deprivation to which jellyfish are uniquely tolerant; coastal developments provide convenient, safe habitat for their polyps to hide. In addition, the great mixing of species transported across the world in the ballasts of ships opens up new, vulnerable ecosystems to these super-adaptors.

If we want to keep eating tuna, the world needs to learn how to share
Fishing for tuna, swordfish, jack mackerel, Patagonian toothfish and many other species happens far out at sea, with fisheries often crossing multiple international boundaries. It’s a huge global industry, which provides billions of dollars a year in direct and indirect benefits to developed and developing countries, and which supplies the world’s food markets. However, overfishing and weak management are serious threats, estimated to cost the world up to US$50 billion a year in lost benefits … Fortunately, there are new solutions we should be considering – including lessons from a tuna hotspot in the Pacific.

More Sydney Harbour no-fishing zones needed to boost fish numbers, scientists say
AUSTRALIA – Scientists are calling for trials of more marine sanctuaries in Sydney Harbour, after research found areas with no anglers had seven times the abundance of large fish measuring at least 25 centimetres. Divers carried out 45 surveys at 25 sites as part of the Sydney Reef Life Survey. “We did all the way from Barrenjoey all the way down to Cronulla,” John Turnbull, from the Underwater Research Group, said. “So we’ve covered all of those key areas inside and outside the harbour.” Mr Turnbull said there were twice as many recreational fishers in Sydney than in any other estuary in New South Wales. “Sydney has incredible diversity, so lots and lots of species. But a lot of those species aren’t able to grow up. They get caught before they grow to full size,” he said.

Drop in number of southern right whales spotted in Great Australian Bight surprises scientists
The 25th annual census of southern right whales in the Great Australian Bight has revealed a significant drop in their number, defying the predictions of marine scientists. Researchers yesterday counted 73 whales around the Head of the Bight in South Australia, and 15 at Fowlers Bay, a sharp decline on the total of about 200 recorded at the same time last year… Lead researcher Claire Charlton, from Western Australia’s Curtin University, said while peak calving season was last year, she was not anticipating a drop-off of this magnitude. “Now is the time you would expect to see the peak numbers,” she said. “Some of the factors that can cause a low number could include natural variation, climatic conditions and prey availability.

Call for croc cull discussion in the Kimberley in WA before ‘inevitable’ fatal
AUSTRALIA – There are calls for a review of crocodile management in the Kimberley, with some locals saying culling needs to occur around towns before there is another fatality. Crocodile attacks remain rare in WA’s north, and there has not been a death recorded since 1987. But the most comprehensive survey of the crocodile population in more than 30 years has found their numbers have tripled in the major breeding rivers. Broome deputy shire president Harold Tracey said it was time for a large-scale removal of the reptiles from waterways around Broome, Derby and Kununurra… Among those opposed to a mass cull is a Broome dentist who was attacked by a saltwater crocodile and lived to tell the tale.

Hunua Ranges a no-go for dogs after 1080 drop
NEW ZEALAND – Dog-owners will be discouraged from taking their pets into Auckland’s Hunua Ranges for at least four months after a major drop of 1080 poison began today. Watercare has taken two of its four Hunua supply dams out of service until they receive a clean bill of health, and three regional parks have been closed to the public for five days. That follows what Auckland Council says was the successful completion of a 1080 bait drop by three helicopters in the first of two large blocks of forestry covering 21,500 hectares.

Brazil’s illegal loggers downscale to avoid satellite detection
Brazil’s drive to nip illicit tree-felling in the bud has shifted the nature of the problem, according to researchers. Small-scale illegal logging is – proportionally speaking – on the rise, says a report by the Climate Policy Initiative and the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. Deforestation rates fell nearly 80% from 27,000 sq km in 2004 to 5,000 km2 in 2012, following a strict regime of regulation, monitoring and enforcement. But over the same period, destruction of patches smaller than 25 hectares has increased from a quarter of the total to more than half.

Economy and Business

Indian Airport Becomes World’s First to Operate Solely on Solar
Cochin International airport in Kochi, India has become the world’s first airport to completely operate on solar power, according to a recent announcement. The airport is powered by a 12 MWp solar power plant comprising of 46,150 solar panels laid across 45 acres. It now will have 50,000 to 60,000 thousand units of electricity per day to be consumed for all its operational functions, which make the airport 100 percent power neutral. The system is connected to the grid, and lacks battery storage. A power banking module has been worked out with the state electricity board, which involves the airport giving the power it produces during the day to the grid, and then ‘buying’ it back when needed — especially at night.

US Navy to purchase power from 650,000 solar panels
The US Navy has agreed a 20-year deal to buy solar energy from a 210MW power plant in the Arizona desert.  The Mesquite Solar 3 project, which will begin construction this month, will provide one third of the power required by 14 US naval facilities in California. The agreement is said to be the largest purchase of renewable energy ever made by a federal entity.

Waste and the Circular Economy

E-waste: The Nuts and Bolts of Why It Still Plagues our Landfills
In 2013, more than 3 million tons of e-waste was generated, and only 40 percent of that burgeoning pile actually ended up getting recycled. So, what is making it so hard to do away with e-waste? And just what is it that is recovered that makes old, out-of-date recycled computers both valuable and a sustainable resource for business? Most importantly, what is it that still needs to happen to ensure that our average rate of 40 percent recycled can be transformed to 100 percent?

WRAP Funding Cut as Research Shows Brits Waste the Most Food in All of Europe
A study published this month finds that the UK is the worst-performing European country in terms of food waste, just as government funding for its leading waste-reduction charity, Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), was cut 38 percent. Published in the journal, Environmental Research Letters, the study examined data from six EU countries to analyze the water and nitrogen resources lost through consumer food waste. Nearly 80 percent of all food waste is “avoidable” according to the findings, and 16 percent of all food that reached its EU consumers was thrown away. In total, the EU countries under study wasted about 22 million tons of food annually and the UK was the worst offender: households there waste roughly 6kg of food each week.

NASA Says Closed-Loop Poop May Be Key to Long-Term Space Travel
The circular economy is launching into space. Researchers at Clemson University in South Carolina recently secured funding from NASA to create a closed-loop system on a spacecraft that could turn astronauts’ feces into food, fertilizer and other useful materials for long space flights. “Synthetic Biology for Recycling Human Waste into Food, Nutraceuticals, and Materials: Closing the Loop for Long-Term Space Travel” was awarded a $200,000 per year grant, for up to three years, to tackle the space agency’s challenge to feed humans cramped into a spacecraft for months at a time.

Is This Weird Vegetable Part Going To Be The Next Kale?
People started predicting peak kale in 2012. The number of farms growing the leafy green had more than doubled; Bon Appetit named it the Year of Kale. But we keep eating more. Sales went up another 31% last year. Peak Kale is nowhere in sight. But Big Produce is not resting on its kale laurels. Instead, it’s on a quest: Creating the next kale. One produce company in Salinas, California—the epicenter of kale production—is hoping the answer might lie in selling a part of the broccoli plant that would normally be composted, not eaten. They’re calling it BroccoLeaf: The leaves around a broccoli crown that most people have never seen.

Politics and Society

What Do You Do With a Bear That Kills a Person?
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyoming— “Jack-booted executioner” is not a title that Yellowstone National Park Superintendent Dan Wenk ever aspired to own. But as a torrent of emails and phone calls began flooding his office last week—most from wildlife lovers in a desperate attempt to keep a mother grizzly bear alive—Wenk was given that label, and far worse. Even legendary primatologist Jane Goodall, who has become a huge fan of grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, reached out to Wenk from her home in Bournemouth, England, pleading with him to spare a sow whose tragic encounter with a hiker had elevated her into the realm of international cause célèbre.

Charlotte Church adds her voice to Arctic oil protest
She’s performed for the pope, the Queen and the former president of the United States, but next week Charlotte Church will turn her attention – and her voice – to the employees of the oil giant Shell. On Wednesday the singer-songwriter and actor will sing a “heartbreaking” song alongside a requiem outside Shell headquarters in London, as its oil exploration vessels gear up to restart drilling for oil in the Arctic. She hopes it will highlight the oil firm’s “nonsensical and exploitative” billion dollar venture under the ice cap and persuade its employees to blow the whistle on the company.

Global Witness: the media is dependent on NGOs to investigate corruption
Delving into the murky world of natural resources and corruption is dangerous work. Two people are killed every week, on average, defending land, forests and waterways against companies and criminals staking their claim on land.  Even those figures are likely to be an underestimate, with publicly available information from most parts of Africa, as well as Central Asia, Burma and China severely lacking. London-based NGO Global Witness has spent the past 20 years delving into this issue to expose some of the worst wrongdoing, starting in the mid-90s with its campaign against the illegal timber trade between Cambodia and Thailand, used to fund the genocidal Khmer Rouge rebels.

Drive-by art installation highlights Cape Town’s wildlife – in pictures
Artist Bryan Little’s Endemic Project features animal paintings in reflective tape that illuminate in car headlights to reveal species endemic to the Western Cape and Fynbos floral kingdom of South Africa. Drivers can download a soundtrack to accompany the immersive installation along Rhodes Drive in Cape Town

The Table Mountain pride butterfly (Aeropetes tulbaghia) is the largest butterfly on Table Mountain, with a wingspan of 80mm. It is easy to identify as there are blue ‘eyespots’ on its brown wings.

The Table Mountain pride butterfly (Aeropetes tulbaghia) is the largest butterfly on Table Mountain, with a wingspan of 80mm. It is easy to identify as there are blue ‘eyespots’ on its brown wings.
Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Abbott is losing the plot in his war on environmentalists
Few things seem to rile the Abbott government quite as much as isolated Federal Court decisions. You’ll recall that before this whole Carmichael coal mine episode there was Andrew Bolt’s section 18C affair. Tony Abbott was in opposition in that case, but this difference aside, the similarities are striking. In both cases, the good guys lost. In both cases, they were the victims of pesky activist types. And in both cases the laws in question had been in force for some 15 or so years, having barely been used with any success.

Abbott government’s zeal for political hyperbole makes facts dispensable
Perhaps due to the repeated deployment of blunt-force political hyperbole, the government appears to have developed an almost complete immunity to facts. Listening to the prime minister’s angry rhetoric about green “sabotage” of the $16bn Carmichael coalmine, for example, you may have missed the fact that it was not delayed by “vigilante” green groups succeeding in an attempt to use legal process to defend worthless skinks and a snake, but rather by the fact that the environment minister Greg Hunt and/or his department made a mistake.

Cost of tougher emissions cuts are significantly less than Tony Abbott claims, government’s own modelling shows
…In a joint press conference on August 11 to announce [Australia’s emission reduction] targets, Mr Abbott quoted the modelling to say the target chosen by the government would result in lower gross domestic product of 0.2 and 0.3 per cent from what it would have otherwise would have been in 2030. But at the same press conference Mr Abbott went on to say: “The modelling that we have done suggests that achieving a 40 per cent reduction by then [2030] will be much more expensive. It will be over 2 per cent of GDP, so that’s in the order of $40 billion.” In fact the modelling found on the same figures that a cut of 45 per cent to emissions would result in a reduction in 2030 GDP of 0.5 to 0.7 per cent, significantly less than the Prime Minister claimed.

Middle East conflict drastically ‘improves air quality’
Political disturbance and armed conflict in the Middle East since 2010 have had the unintended consequence of making the air cleaner. Researchers say that in countries like Syria and Iraq, levels of air pollutants have fallen dramatically. The amount of nitrogen dioxide in the air over Damascus has fallen by up to 50% since start of the civil war.  The authors believe their work has important lessons for projections of global emissions.

Built Environment

What The City Of The Future Looked Like In 1925
Even today, predictions of the future feature flying cars, Blade Runner-style advertising hoardings, and other conspicuous technology. But in the August 1925 issue of Popular Science magazine, then-president of the Architectural League of New York, Harvey W. Corbett, not only made uncannily-accurate forecasts of today’s cities, he had some design ideas which are finally beginning to become real.

Non-EV Owner/Lessee Survey!! | CleanTechnica
Our survey of electric car owners and lessees went very well, with 800 people completing the survey! A couple of years ago, I think we wouldn’t have gotten half that number. But now is time for the really big one — a survey of wannabe electric car owners/lessees! (If you don’t yet own or lease an electric car but think you will at some point in the future, I want to get your opinions on the matters in this survey.) Several people helped with the design of this survey, so a big thanks to those early viewers and their feedback. Please complete the survey and share it with friends and family members. The more responses, the better!


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