Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Sustained economic growth: United Nations mistake the poison for the cure
On the surface, the Sustainable Development Goals, soon to be confirmed by the United Nations, seem noble and progressive. They seek to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and hunger while creating sustainable and resilient societies. But look beneath the surface of this pleasant rhetoric and one comes face to face with a far more ominous vision of development: a vision that is fundamentally compromised by corporate interests and ultimately doomed to failure, if not catastrophe. The defining flaw in the United Nations’ agenda is the naïve assumption that “sustained economic growth” is the most direct path to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Energy and Climate Change

Pope Francis calls for urgent action on climate change in White House speech
Pope Francis addressed one of the thorniest issues in American politics on Wednesday with a White House speech explicitly supporting Barack Obama’s plan to cut carbon emissions and chastising climate change deniers for failing in their duty to protect our “common home”. In a tougher-than-expected call for action on global warming, the spiritual leader of more than 70 million American Catholics defied calls among some Republicans to steer clear of politics by making clear he believed this was a moral issue.

More – Watch the moment the Pope urged America to act on climate change

Hillary Clinton opposes Keystone, but other pipelines have forged ahead
At a campaign stop in Iowa on Tuesday, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton broke her silence on where she stands on TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline: “I oppose it because I don’t think it’s in the best interest of what we need to do to combat climate change.”  But while politicians have been dithering over the increasingly unpopular Keystone XL, international tar sands development and other carbon-intensive pipeline projects have been charging ahead.

Starbucks, Nike and Walmart commit to sourcing 100% renewable electricity
Some of the world’s largest businesses have today announced plans to fully transition to using renewable electricity, providing a further boost to the global renewables market. Nine well-known firms – Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, Goldman Sachs, Nike, Starbucks, Salesforce, Steelcase, Voya Financial and Walmart – will today used the annual Climate Week in New York to announce they have joined the global campaign RE100, which encourages businesses to source 100% renewable power.

InnovateUK dishes out £11m to clean tech pioneers
Government-backed technology agency InnovateUK has this week announced over 30 clean tech projects are to share £11.3m of funding as part of the latest round of the Energy Catalyst programme. The initiative, which is jointly run by Innovate UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), awards funding to cutting-edge projects designed to address the energy ‘trilemma’ of reducing carbon emissions, reducing costs and increasing security of supply. It offers funding to early stage companies and R&D projects seeking to move from initial concept to the development of a working prototype.

Climate change ‘potentially the biggest issue facing local governments’ along Queensland coast
AUSTRALIA – Climate change could be the biggest issue facing Queensland councils, with a new study predicting more intense cyclones and storm surges along the coast, the state’s Local Government Association says. Researchers from 13 institutions around the world have analysed data from coastlines across the Pacific and identified La Nina weather systems as a major threat to Queensland. “These cycles are natural cycles, but in the future they could potentially intensify,” the University of New South Wales’ Dr Mitchell Harley said.

Environment and Biodiversity

Tag data ‘raises questions’ about fishing boundaries
Electronic tag data is revealing complex behaviour in fish populations, raising questions about current fisheries management policies. The technology shows that populations contain sub-groups with different migratory behaviour, according to US fish expert Prof David Secor. He said that this insight casts doubt on the effectiveness of fisheries’ geographic boundaries.

Solution is simply vinegar
Researchers at Queensland’s James Cook University have described in a new paper the effectiveness of vinegar in killing crown-of-thorns starfish. Outbreaks of the venomous, coral-eating animals are considered one of the most significant threats posed to the Great Barrier Reef. The paper’s lead author Lisa Bostrom-Einarsson said vinegar had been used to try to kill the starfish before, but JCU scientists had refined the process, resulting in a 100 per cent kill rate.

State of fear: what should we do about sharks in New South Wales?
Sharks have long been a symbol of the terror of the deep seas and a source of trepidation among Australian beachgoers. But a recent cluster of dangerous encounters with sharks in New South Wales has raised new concerns among the public and sparked fresh calls for culls. Fears of more casualties are also changing the way our beaches are being used. Some high schools have reportedly cancelled their surf programs, and several surf lifesaving clubs recently announced that they will seek other venues for “Little Nipper” training. So what’s actually happening with the sharks?

Lake Eyre Partnership wins $500,000 International River Foundation prize
An Australian river conservation group has hit the jackpot, winning an international prize worth half a million dollars. The Lake Eyre Partnership has taken out an International River Foundation prize for its efforts saving the iconic Cooper Creek. The group formed in the 1990s, in opposition to the growth of the cotton industry on the Cooper, in Queensland. The Lake Eyre Basin covers one sixth of Australia, more than one million square kilometres, and is about the same size as the Murray Darling Basin.

Extremely Rare Baby Rhino Captured in Camera Trap
A young rhino scuttles out of the underbrush, its outsize ears swiveling. Not far behind, its mother follows, watching cautiously. This isn’t just any baby, though. It’s one of three new Javan rhinoceros calves caught by camera traps in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park, the last refuge of this critically endangered subspecies. There are now 60 Javan rhinoceroses left on Earth—a tiny population that’s gradually doubled in the last 50 years.


Surge in tech investment shows the days of cheap water are over
US baseball team the Seattle Mariners has been putting its grounds on a water diet for the past three years. With roughly two million fans passing through its stadium and restrooms, as well as a grass field to maintain, this is no mean feat. But by using sensors and software to analyse water use in real time, the baseball team’s maintenance crew has found effective ways to conserve water.

Economy and Business

One Year After New York Declaration on Forests, Report Identifies Companies Taking Action
Several dozen companies that endorsed the New York Declaration on Forests at 2014’s United Nations Climate Summit are taking concrete steps to eliminate commodity-driven deforestation from their supply chains, according to a new report from Supply Change – a project convened by Washington D.C.-based non-profit Forest Trends…  Fast-forward one year, and slightly more than half of the companies examined have publicly disclosed progress toward their supply chain goals – including Cargill, which just last week released a new Policy on Forests; and APP, which last month announced the retirement of roughly 7,000 hectares (~17,300 acres) of commercial plantation areas to protect threatened carbon-rich peatlands — the first time that plantations on tropical peatland have been retired for conservation purposes worldwide.

‘Game-changers’: BT and M&S top FTSE100 on carbon management
Telecommunications giant BT has secured top spot in a report of the carbon reporting performance of the top 100 companies floated on the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE 100).  It is the second year running that BT has topped the Carbon Reporting Performance of the FTSE100, coming ahead of M&S which shared the top spot last year. BT scored 94% in the report, for its ‘all-encompassing climate change risk assessment’. BT’s science based approach to target setting helps it determine the level of emissions reductions necessary within the business’s scope to combat climate change. M&S achieved an overall score of 93%.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Circling Up for Sustainability
The United Nations’ 2030 agenda for sustainable development includes 17 lofty-as-ever goals for tackling our most pressing social and environmental challenges — not the least of which is Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Achieving, or even striving for, Goal 12 will require nothing less than a complete overhaul of our linear, take-make-waste patterns of production and consumption in favor of a circular system — a restorative or regenerative system in which all products are designed and marketed with reuse and recycling in mind — informed by a radical shift in business models and policies around the world.

“Long-term strategic policy framework” needed for circular economy say 29 European packaging organisations
A total of 29 European packaging trade bodies and compliance schemes have called on the European Union to adopt a long-term strategic policy framework for the circular economy. Organisations including the UK’s Alliance for Beverage Cartons and the Environment (ACE), The Industry Council for Research on Packaging and the Environment (INCPEN) and Valpak have signed the set of joint recommendations that has been submitted to the European Commission. These 29 organisations want the framework to enable and facilitate sustainable resource use from a full lifecycle perspective, incentivise economies of scale and take into account value chains at all levels, each with their different functional needs and supply and demand realities.

From trash to treasure: Marrickville’s Bower Co-op breathing new life into recycled items
AUSTRALIA – The Bower Re-Use and Repair Centre Co-operative aims to reduce waste through the repair, reuse and resale of broken household items. Like a giant backyard shed, the Bower is a labyrinthine entanglement of household items — from lamps to blenders and the obligatory drawers of assorted nails and screws. While a small but dedicated team attempt to refurbish anything delivered to the cooperative, they also teach the public how to make minor repairs themselves.

Politics and Society

Explainer: the world’s new sustainable development goals
Later this week, world leaders will gather at the United Nations in New York and adopt a set of Sustainable Development Goals to guide global development. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull won’t be there, but Foreign Minster Julie Bishop will sign Australia up to an ambitious set of goals and targets that will apply to all countries from January 1 next year until 2030. After a long negotiation process, the 193 member states of the United Nations have agreed to 17 goals and 169 targets that seek to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, promote economic growth and prosperity, improve health and education and protect the planet.

Turnbull must break with past attempts to keep the future at bay
We live in a world where entrenched hierarchies of social authority and economic power are being quickly upended by an internet-driven, globalised society and economy. This 21st-century world of continual disruption is empowering individuals and social groups in unprecedented and far-reaching ways. It is making them less dependent on, and less willing to support or adhere to, the agendas and whims of established interests. This makes many middle-of-the-road conservatives uneasy. However, for the super-conservatives who dominated the Abbott government’s agenda and narrative, these shifts were anathema.

Katikati gardener bringing back birdsong
NEW ZEALAND – Heather Wills and her husband Bernie technically retired to Tanners Point in 2002 – although it’s hard to believe that she could ever have worked much harder than she does now. Soon after they moved to the area, Heather read about the threat posed by rats to our native birds. She had the idea to make the Tanners Point peninsula pest-free.  She started canvassing neighbours and applied for funding from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

TPPA could empower rejected foreign investors in legal challenges
Under a Trans Pacific Partnership deal, foreign investors in New Zealand could be able to take international legal action against a government decision such as that which rejected a Chinese company’s bid for Lochinver Station, says an Auckland Law School senior lecturer. Amokura Kawharu said leaked TPPA drafts suggested an investor from a country that was party to the proposed TPPA, for example an American, Canadian or Mexican investor, could challenge a decision that went against them through international proceedings as well as, or instead of, seeking a judicial review in a New Zealand court. However, it appeared New Zealand’s TPPA negotiators had sought an exemption from such dispute settlement measures, though whether that would be accepted or not was unknown because the draft was still secret, she said.

How corporates co-opted the art of mindfulness to make us bear the unbearable
Almost every person who walks through my practice doorway is anxious in some way. And so they should be. While their anxiety might be blasting messages at an overly high volume, the messages themselves are worth paying attention to: abusive relationships, significant losses and workplaces that have squeezed their personal, physical and spiritual lives into a corner too small for a hamster to burrow in. Most come in hoping that the volume of their anxiety will be turned down, but many also hope that the messages themselves will go away. Like all of us, they want to find a way around having to take difficult action to change their lives. And for some of them, their hopes are pinned on our current corporatised misinterpretation of mindfulness. They’ve been sold on meditation as a simple way to bear the unbearable.

Built Environment

Can one day without cars really change our travel habits?
It is said that on average, we take 66 days to form a new habit. So when an initiative sets out to change our habits in just 24 hours, there’s cause for scepticism. World Car-Free Day aims to do just that. The thought is that by closing city centres to cars for one day a year, people will make a long-term switch to alternative modes of transport and help us to address the many problems caused by our dependence on cars.

Cars are killing us – so how do we wean ourselves off them?
Road traffic accidents are the number one cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds. If no action is taken, it is predicted that road traffic will kill as many as 1.9m people worldwide per year by 2030. Add to this the negative impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, air and noise pollution, chronic diseases such as heart disease or diabetes and rising levels of obesity, and a future full of cars looks bleak indeed.

How to fix the holes in Australia’s building codes: Part 2
In the first part of this article, I wrote about the state of Australian building airtightness, and pointed out that codes and the building industry in this country can be compared to the way things were in the US about 20 years ago. Testing is essential to verify that buildings and ductwork are actually being constructed as tight as they should, but there is no mention of testing in the codes. There is also a serious lack of trained personnel, equipment and experience in Australia to carry out that kind of work.  Transforming the codes and building practice will require collaboration from many sides of the industry, both public and private. The second half of this article will explore many things that can be done to improve the state of affairs here, in order to get people thinking about how we can work together on this.

The energy efficient home extension: solar now, storage later
A home owner with a passion for sustainable living gathered good people around her to complete a energy efficient extension that is now a favourite space for family members to meet, eat and curl up with a good book. Looking to downsize after her five children left home, Ita Charlton was certain of one thing; she wanted a home that was energy efficient and required a minimum of fuss to heat and cool it. Ita and husband Terry, a psychologist who ran a home-based practice, considered a number of options, including a tree change to a rural acreage, before spotting a solid double brick house just around the corner from their family home.


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