Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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The protest movement is failing: it’s fighting the same old battles with the same poor results
Does campaigning work? I’m often asked this question. In 2010, when I was director of the World Development Movement, I was interviewed by the Ecologist magazine and was optimistic about the rise of activism and the opportunities to build solidarity under a Tory government. But I’m increasingly convinced that either we’ve been using the wrong methods in our campaigns, or we’re missing something altogether… We win a few campaigns, some of which I’m proud to have been involved with, but the overall direction of travel remains the same.

Energy and Climate Change

How much has global warming worsened California’s drought? Now we have a number
With each passing year, human-caused global warming bullies California for more water. Each year, the heat squeezes more moisture from soils and ecosystems. This is because, as the atmosphere warms, its demand for moisture rises. Just as a puddle evaporates more quickly on a warm day, soils dry out more quickly during warmer years, which are becoming increasingly frequent in most locations globally. Currently, California is in the grips of a severe drought, which motivated my colleagues and me to conduct a study to determine how much of this drought can be blamed on natural climate variability. And how much can be blamed on the global warming shakedown? Our answer is 8%-27%. This finding, done using a model built on historical data, sheds light on California’s future and the effect higher temperatures have on the natural forces that drive California’s droughts.

When firefighters speak out on climate change, we ought to listen up
Climate change is worsening the fires that ravage many parts of America each year. Grime-streaked firefighters battling one of the 167 active wildfires currently scorching portions of the US west will tell you as much. What they have encountered on the firelines in the past few years is evidence that everything has changed as a result of global warming.

Kyoto protocol’s carbon credit scheme ‘increased emissions by 600m tonnes’
A key carbon offsetting scheme was so open to abuse that three quarters of its allowances lacked environmental integrity, a new report says. UN officials confirm the findings by the Stockholm Environment Institute that around 600m tonnes of carbon were wrongly emitted as a result, under the UNFCCC’s Joint Implementation (JI) scheme. An estimated 80% of JI projects were of low environmental quality, according to the paper which was published today in Nature Climate Change.

Victoria sets 20 per cent renewables target
AUSTRALIA – The Victorian Andrews Government has released a Renewable Energy Roadmap for the state that sets a target of at least 20 per cent of electricity generated from renewable sources by 2020. The roadmap also commits the state government to using its purchasing power to support clean energy projects, and sets out mechanisms for supporting distributed local renewable energy generation and growing jobs and investment in both generation and storage technologies.

Billion dollar pipeline and power station abandoned
AUSTRALIA – Plans have been scrapped for a $1 billion power station and gas pipeline between Wellington and Young. The company ERM Power has announced it is not proceeding with the projects because of falling demand in the national electricity market and the rise in renewable energies. The pipeline and power station have been in the planning since 2006.

South Africa accused of weakening emissions target
South Africa’s pitch to curb carbon emissions cuts polluting industries too much slack, according to WWF. For its contribution to a UN global warming agreement this year, the emerging economy is set to stick with goals laid out in 2010. A government discussion paper published this month reaffirmed the commitment to cut greenhouse gases by 42% by 2025 below a business-as-usual scenario. Emissions will level out around 2030 and fall from 2036, it said. But WWF accused the government of manipulating the figures to actually weaken the level of ambition.

South African team may have solved solar puzzle even Google couldn’t crack
It is a problem that has so far stumped even Google’s brainy engineers – how to generate cheap solar electricity using a small-scale array of mirrors to concentrate the sun’s energy.  Now a team at a South African university – led by a former Intel strategic planner – believes they have cracked it. Once they have completed a prototype system in October they have big plans for rolling out the technology. The idea behind the design – so-called Concentrated Solar Power or CSP – is simple. A field of mirrors on the ground tracks the sun and concentrates its rays on to a central point which heats up. That heat is converted into electricity.

Environment and Biodiversity

Earth is on track to lose an India-sized chunk of its tropical forests by 2050
Tropical forests face a lot of threats, particularly from the logging and agriculture industries. Their continued disappearance from the face of the Earth is therefore no great news — but new research suggests that they may be disappearing even faster than we thought. And that could have big implications for the global effort against climate change. A new report from the Centre for Global Development, released on Monday, warns of what will happen if world leaders don’t take stronger steps to cut down on deforestation — that is, if we follow a “business-as-usual” trajectory.

Bringing devils back to the mainland could help wildlife conservation
Australia’s mammal extinction crisis needs urgent attention. Foxes and cats have significantly contributed to the loss of some of our most vulnerable species. Alarmingly, the trend doesn’t look like slowing. Many researchers agree that the dingo plays an important role in mitigating native mammal declines, because they suppress foxes and, in some cases, cats. So when we remove dingoes to benefit livestock, our native wildlife suffers. This leaves environmental managers in a difficult situation, because what’s best for a livestock farmer isn’t best for conservation. But our research, published this month in Biological Conservation, suggests that devils could help slow native mammal declines on the mainland with negligible harm to livestock.

New Zealand’s fish stocks up with the world’s best, says top scientist
A top fisheries scientist says New Zealand’s fish stocks are performing as well or better than any in the world and the public perception is wrong. Addressing the Seafood New Zealand conference in Wellington, Ministry for Primary Industries principal fisheries science adviser Dr Pamela Mace said when she looked at fish stocks around the world, New Zealand was “the best success story of all”. “New Zealand’s fisheries are performing extremely well overall, at least as good as or beyond the standards of the best in the world.  I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Mace said.  She said of the 300-plus stocks, 83 per cent were above or well above the level where sustainability issues might be a concern, and that figure represented 96 per cent of landed fish.

Saving kiwi from extinction is achievable – study
‘Saving a National Icon’, a study conducted by Landcare Research, has given deep insights into the possibility of saving New Zealand’s treasured native bird, the kiwi. It is the first official report to estimate what it would cost to achieve stability of the kiwi population, and ultimately to encourage sustained growth. The study found that work carried out by the Department of Conservation, the Kiwis for kiwi charity, and over 90 community projects is, in fact, making a difference, and showing it is still possible for kiwi to be saved from extinction.

Kiwis tag along on bee loss study
…Kiwi scientists are getting involved with a groundbreaking new partnership between Australia’s national science agency CSIRO and tech giant Intel, which will fit tens of thousands of bees across the globe with tiny electronic tags. About 15,000 bees in Australia and Brazil have already trialled the state-of-the-art technology, which includes a 4.5 microgram, 2.5mm long radio frequency identification (RFID) tag attached to the insect’s back. It weighs about a third of its usual carry load. These tags are picked up by Intel Edison boards, which are placed inside beehives and pick up readings from the tags when their winged wearers come within range.

Survey to assess bee colony losses in New Zealand
Landcare Research is opening a survey as an initial means of assessing the causes behind bee colony losses in New Zealand. Thankfully, in New Zealand the number of hives have been increasing. However, bee populations are currently on a drastic decline in many other parts of the world – and New Zealand has recently sustained an increase in the failure of colonies. Anecdotal evidence suggests that diseases, pesticides, and overstocking are part of the problem, but Landcare’s study aims to get a clearer picture of the situation and the reasons behind it. Beekeepers are being asked to contribute their experiences and observations, working towards the protection of the $5.1 billion industry, in an online survey.

Documenting the wilds of Melbourne
About to step our from your suburban Melbourne home and into the urban jungle? Well Chris McCormack is concerned you may be taking something for granted.  He wants you to remember that there is wildlife all around, even in the middle of the city. From unique and often unseen creatures to the more common, such as a ring-tailed possum or a magpie. “Its not just cars out there. And it is not just people staring at their phones,” he says. “We are surrounded by wildlife every day of our lives, whether it be small things like insects or whether it is birds and mammals.” Mr McCormack is one of the founders of Wild Melbourne, a group dedicated to educating the people of the city about the plants and animals with which they share a space.

Shark tagging is Ballina’s great white hope
AUSTRALIA – The Ballina Mayor says great hopes are pinned on this week’s efforts to tag great white sharks. The Department of Primary Industries together with the CSIRO will try to catch and attach monitors to the large sharks lurking off the far north coast. David Wright said the $1,000 tags will allow authorities to monitor the sharks for up to 10 years. He said the mystery of what was making the area so attractive to sharks needed to be solved.

Economy and Business

Researchers Unveil New Method for Converting Greenhouse Gas to Building Material
This week, researchers at George Washington University (GWU) unveiled a new method to convert carbon dioxide into nanoscale carbon fibers that may serve as valuable future building materials (think: aircrafts, fitness equipment and sports cars), as well as another potential weapon against climate change. The new technology captures airborne carbon dioxide and employs an electrochemical process to convert it to carbon nanofibers and oxygen. The method is more efficient and potentially significantly cheaper than existing methods, according to Stuart Licht, a professor of chemistry at GWU.

Intelligent Energy reveals hydrogen battery that can charge your iPhone for up to a week
Loughborough-based Intelligent Energy has made a major breakthrough with a pioneering hydrogen fuel cell battery for iPhones, it was announced late last week. The Telegraph last week reported the British tech firm has successfully trialled a prototype hydrogen battery that can power an iPhone 6 for up to a week, significantly longer than conventional lithium-ion batteries. The battery, which is recharged through a modified headphone port, combines hydrogen and oxygen to create electricity and then emits just a small amount of waste water and heat.

Green business initiatives could save five hundred megatons of CO2e by 2020
The private sector could cut more than five hundred megatons of greenhouse gas emissions in the next five years, simply by scaling up existing green initiatives, according to a new report.  Researchers from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) and energy consultancy Ecofys, analysed five current initiatives, such as the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 and En.lighten. The report found that expanding these schemes could save emissions equivalent to one years’ worth activity from 130 coal power stations. The report focuses in particular on so-called ‘cooperative initiatives’ between businesses, Governments and NGO’s.

Dawn timber-laundering raids cast doubt on ‘sustainable’ Brazilian wood
The raids began at dawn as the sun rose over the Tapajós river and more than 100 police swooped on a dozen locations in the most sophisticated operation yet against suspected timber laundering in Brazil – a practice that allows consumers in the US and Europe to buy flooring and furniture with what they think is a clear conscience. More than 30 officials, local businessmen and sawmill owners were arrested in Pará state in the north of the country this morning as prosecutors targeted what they say is a criminal organisation that whitewashes environmental crimes and reveals the flimsiness of Brazil’s logging controls.

FactCheck Q&A: Will India no longer buy Australian coal?
LEADER OF THE GREENS, RICHARD DI NATALE: We’ve got India no longer buying our coal…
TONY JONES: I don’t think it’s true that India is no longer buying our coal. I think you must have that wrong… It’s about to build one of the biggest mines in Queensland.
RICHARD DI NATALE: India in the next decade have made a statement that they will no longer buy not a kilo of Australian coal. They will be out of the coal business as far as Australian imports is concerned in the next decade.

India’s electricity demand has been steadily increasing over the last decade and will continue to do so. The country still has around 300 million people who aren’t connected to the electricity grid, with the current government saying they’re determined to fix that.

Subsidising Adani coal rail link unwise, ex-EU climate chief Hedegaard says
Abbott government subsidies for the coal industry including the proposed mega-mines of Queensland’s Galilee basin would not be “wise”, says Connie Hedegaard, the former European Commissioner for Climate Action. On Tuesday, Treasurer Joe Hockey  said the government had been in talks with Queensland state counterparts on Adani Group’s proposed Carmichael coal mine.  The discussions focused on a 388-kilometre rail line the Indian mining company would build from its giant mine at Abbot Point near the Great Barrier Reef.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Review of collection systems proposed by Scottish circular economy consultation
A consultation on creating a more circular economy in Scotland has been launched by its Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead. The consultation, which will run until 30 October 2015, is the first step in preparing a circular economy strategy for Scotland. Among the measures proposed is a review of the specific circumstances in which contamination arises in collection systems, in particular mixed collections including glass, food waste collections and contamination of dry recyclables by food, with the aim of taking action against these.
View the consultation at

Researchers sample enormous oceanic trash vortex ahead of clean-up proposal
Researchers returned on Sunday from mapping and sampling a massive swirling cluster of trash floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as the Dutch-borne crew works to refine a clean-up strategy it will roll out globally. The crew of the Ocean Cleanup, backed by volunteers in sailboats, ventured to areas of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”, a swirling mass of human-linked debris spanning hundreds of miles of open sea where plastic outnumbers organisms by factors in the hundreds. The debris, concentrated by circular, clockwise ocean currents within an oblong-shaped “convergence zone”, lies near the Hawaiian Islands, about midway between Japan and the US West Coast. The trash ranges from microscopic pieces of plastic to large chunks. Working for about a month, the group collected samples as small as a grain of sand and as large as discarded fishing nets weighing more than 2,000 pounds.

Small Business: Upcycling
While spending time in the Netherlands in 2010, Paul Roest spied some cool cafes that had furniture made out of old scaffolding timber. “I thought it looked really great, particularly in some of the cafes they have there right on the beaches,” explains Roest, “and I thought it would be kind of cool to make something similar.” Roest didn’t have a building background – he’s actually got a Masters in environmental science – but when he got home he put his idea into practice, making himself a coffee table in his spare time. “Then I made some mates some tables, then I chucked a few things on Trade Me. Then boom – business had started.”

What Do Plastics’ Recycling Numbers Mean?
When you’ve drained the last drop out of the laundry detergent bottle or squeezed out the rest of the shampoo, you might flip over the container and see a little triangle of arrows with a number inside. The symbols are meant to signify what type of resin plastic the container is made of, so consumers know whether or not they can recycle them. The Society of the Plastics Industry introduced the system, known as the Resin Identification Code (RIC) system, in 1988, and it’s become a universal standard… To get more guidance on what you can and can’t recycle, you’ll need to get in touch with your local facility, but we can at least help decode the RIC system, thanks to the American Chemistry Council.

Politics and Society

Lebanon’s prime minister threatens to resign as protesters rally for second day in central Beirut
Hundreds have been injured as a second day of anti-government protests in Lebanon’s capital turned violent. Demonstrators again clashed with security forces on Sunday as part of the “You Stink” campaign, which is calling for the government to resign over its failure to remove uncollected rubbish from the streets. The demonstration became violent when about 200 youths entered Riad al-Solh Square in downtown Beirut, hurling projectiles at security forces who responded by firing tear gas and a water cannon.

Built Environment

Ecology initiative to encourage more birds, bats and insects to central London
London’s West End may not seem the ideal habitat for wildlife, but wrens, thrushes and bats are making it their home. Robin-like black redstarts, common pipistrelle and the rarer Leisler’s bat, pied wagtails, song thrushes and wrens are among those recorded in a recent survey of buildings around Regent Street, Haymarket and Piccadilly Circus. In a new ecology initiative – called the Wild West End – the area’s largest property owners are linking Regent’s Park and St James’s Park with green stepping stones to encourage more birds, bats and insects to the built-up busy streets.

What’s behind the conflict between people and animals in Tanzania
Tanzania’s vast Ruaha landscape is an epic wilderness centred around Ruaha National Park, which at more than 20,000km2, is the largest park in east Africa. This landscape is one of the most important places left for large carnivores. It is believed to support more than 10% of the world’s lions, and the third biggest population of endangered African wild dogs. It also has globally significant populations of cheetahs, leopards and spotted hyaenas. However, Ruaha’s carnivore population relies not only on the park but also village land nearby. This is where the animals engage in conflict with some of the poorest communities on the planet. Carnivore attacks on livestock result in significant economic and cultural costs to local households.

We can’t ignore the air pollution crisis in Africa’s fast-growing megacities
Residents of London, Los Angeles and Beijing often complain about air pollution. And they’re right to – their concerns are backed by lots of data. However, not all cities are measured as rigorously. Notably, the air quality in many African cities is almost completely unmonitored. By 2050, both Lagos and Kinshasa will exceed 30m people – shouldn’t we know more about pollution in this fast-growing part of the world?

Thirty Year Infrastructure Plan downplays climate change
The Government’s new Thirty Year New Zealand Infrastructure Plan is severely compromised, in that it fails to recognise climate change as the greatest threat to New Zealand’s economy, says the Green Party. Green finance spokesperson Julie Anne Genter says while the report “does mention climate change in passing”, that is followed up with justification of multi-billion dollar that “make it harder for New Zealanders to go about their lives without increasing pollution.


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