Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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We’re addicted to growth – here are six ways to wean ourselves off
Since the late 1970s humanity has been on a self-constructed economic treadmill. We have believed that our economies must grow because we think this is progress…. Growth needs natural resources, the extraction, processing and burning of which creates the pollution that causes climate change. The more we grow, the more this cycle of production, pollution and warming spins ever faster. This is why CO2 emissions are at record levels. To get off this treadmill, there are six hurdles we must overcome.

Energy and Climate Change

Comparing hybrid battery systems
It seems as if a new type of hybrid battery system is hitting the market every day.  These systems are highly technical and their overly simplified specification sheets rarely provide the information required to make an accurate comparison… In the absence of specific advertising regulations, we have developed a quick guide on what to look for, and how to compare hybrid battery systems and spot their limitations.

The Greens’ plan for 90% renewables by 2030 sounds hard, but it stacks up
The Australian Greens this weekend announced a target of 90% renewable electricity by 2030 – pledging to go further than Labor, which has already backed a target of 50%. How hard is it to reach these targets?\

Extreme weather tied to 600,000 deaths, $2.6 trillion bill over two decades: UN
Weather-related disasters in the past two decades have killed more than 600,000 people and inflicted economic losses estimated at trillions of dollars, the United Nations said Monday, warning that the frequency and impact of such events was set to rise… As well as killing hundreds of thousands, weather-related disasters wounded 4.1 billion others and inflicted economic costs well in excess of $US1.9 trillion ($2.6 trillion over the two decades, the report found.

Paris 2015: UN Conference on Climate Change

It’s Not Just Coal and Oil: Forests Are Key to Climate
When diplomats from around the world arrive in Paris on Nov. 30, many will be seeking to reduce emissions from coal, oil, and natural gas. But a handful of countries also will be arguing about how to sustain the carbon-slurping power of the planet’s lungs – its two greatest tropical forests, the Amazon and the Congo.

Paris climate talks: Tim Flannery optimistic global agreement will be reached
Australian Climate Council chief Tim Flannery says he is optimistic world leaders will reach a global agreement on climate change during talks in Paris next week. The council will release a report today outlining the growth of renewable energy in the past six years. Professor Flannery said the booming industry was proof the world was willing and able to step up to the challenge of addressing climate change.

Why the ‘carbon budget’ matters
Despite promises for big emissions cuts at the Paris UN climate talks, experts say that the world is on track to ‘burn’ its carbon budget in the next 25 years—and that means nations could overshoot two degrees of global warming, leading to dangerous climate change.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Allianz to cut investments in companies using coal in favour of renewable energy
Germany’s Allianz SE, one of the world’s largest financial asset managers, said on Tuesday it would decrease investments in companies using coal and boost funding in those focused on wind power over the next six months. Chief executive Oliver Baete said Allianz will no longer invest in companies if more than 30% percent of sales come from coal mining or if coal generates more than 30% percent of electricity.

Links to mining sector are preventing Australian universities from divesting in fossil fuels
Australian universities have been quick to promote their commitment to sustainability, but slow to divest their fossil fuel investments and take a strong stance on climate change. This places them behind faith organisations, not for profits, local councils, banks, superannuation funds and a host of others moving capital away from fossil fuels. Why is this? Strong links to the mining sector have put universities in a difficult position. They are conflicted between climate concerns and the income they derive from vested interests with big mining companies.

Environment and Biodiversity

Feeding ‘Godzilla’: as Indonesia burns, its government moves to increase forest destruction
In the midst of its worst fire crisis in living memory, the Indonesian government is taking a leap backward on forest protection. The recently signed Council of Palm Oil Producing Nations between Indonesia and Malaysia, signed at the weekend in Kuala Lumpur, will attempt to wind back palm oil companies’ pledges to end deforestation. This is despite Indonesia’s efforts to end fires and palm oil cultivation on peatlands. If successful the move will undo recent attempts to end deforestation from palm oil production, and exacerbate the risk of future forest fires.

Pollution from Brazil dam burst enters the sea, killing marine life – video
Mud and mining waste from the bursting of two mining dams in Brazil on 5 November reaches the coast on Monday, spreading out to sea. The brown plume has been working its way down the Rio Doce river since the accident, in which 12 people died with a further 11 still missing. The mining companies involved, BHP Billiton and Vale, have contracted local fishermen to collect and bury dead fish which have been washing up on the shoreline as a result of the pollution.

Pesticide may be reason butterfly numbers are falling in UK, says study
Neonicotinoids may be contributing towards the disappearance of butterflies from the countryside, according to the first scientific study to examine the effect of the controversial agricultural pesticides on British butterflies. Researchers found that 15 of 17 species which commonly live on farmland – including the small tortoiseshell, small skipper and wall butterfly – show declines associated with increasing neonic use.

Wild things return to Angkor Wat
Decades after poachers stripped the forests surrounding Angkor Wat of large mammals, an innovative conservation group is bringing them back. Already, Wildlife Alliance has rewilded the forest with gibbons and langurs. And more are coming.

Rare night parrot gets funding boost to protect species in south-west Queensland
A $5 million plan to protect one of the world’s most elusive birds, the night parrot, has been given a boost by the Queensland Government, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announcing a $400,000 package to help save the bird.  With no confirmed sightings for more than 75 years, the bird had been thought to be extinct. But in 2013, naturalist John Young found evidence of a living population in south-west Queensland.

The incredible plan to make money grow on trees (Long Read)
One day about five years ago, Frank Nolwo, a compact, quietly spoken boat skipper from the upper reaches of the Sepik river, in northern Papua New Guinea, woke up and headed into town. Nolwo, who is 42, has nine children. He was adding an extension to his house, and needed to buy some building materials. You do not just pop to the shops if you live in the upper Sepik. Nolwo left Kagiru, his village, in the early morning. Like other isolated clutches of palm-roofed houses on the river, Kagiru has no electricity, no mobile phone signal, and no road connecting it to anywhere else. Even by Papua New Guinean standards, the region is regarded as hot, poor and difficult to live in…

Gareth Morgan: Cats – the number one threat to native wildlife
NEW ZEALAND – Auckland Council is currently consulting on its Pest Management Plan. Under this plan there is a way wandering cats could be managed within sensitive wildlife areas, but the council will act only if people stand up and ask for it. Most of the species that harm our native species are managed in some way.

Scientists slice open feral cats in Kakadu to examine insides
AUSTRALIA – Twelve feet and the odd tail are the clues to what one Kakadu National Park feral cat ate for dinner. Scientist Danielle Stokeld is dissecting cats from the Top End in the hopes of learning whether feral felines are to blame for the steep decline in native mammals.


Fonterra: Most farmers shut off stock from waterways
NEW ZEALAND – Fonterra says farmers which supply it with milk have shut off their cows from 98 per cent of the country’s “defined” rivers, wetlands and lakes. The total area fenced off amounts to twice the length of New Zealand’s coastline, or more than 34,000 kilometres, the dairy giant says. In addition, some farmers have gone further by fencing off 10,000km of smaller waterways… Fencing alone did not do the job; there had to be a suitable riparian buffer between the paddock and a river to intercept the run-off.

Economy and Business

New energy tax would ‘hinder UK’s climate targets’
A paper published today (23 November) by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the London School of Economics is a direct response to a Treasury consultation which sought views on proposals to simplify business energy efficiency tax. The paper highlights that carbon taxes would be a more beneficial in meeting climate targets than the current complex energy taxes which offer different incentives for different fuel sources. The paper states: “The instrument of choice to achieve the Government’s policy objectives should be a price on the carbon content of energy, rather than on the amount of energy consumed, in order to address the greenhouse gas externality.


McCrone: What is a nation’s real cost of renewables support?

What do the minerals tourmaline and cordierite, and the much-discussed contemporary garment #TheDress have in common? The answer is that they look different depending on who you are and where you are standing. It is rather the same with energy policy. Subsidy support for renewables is either a vital step towards a low-carbon future and the full commercialization of new technologies; or it is an excessive burden on electricity bill-payers and taxpayers. So how much does supporting renewables cost, at a national level? Some countries crunch their own estimates and publish them. For others, governments release enough subsidiary data to make it possible for others to estimate the bill.


Green Investment Bank hits £10bn milestone

UK – The Green Investment Bank (GIB) has invested £2.3bn in green infrastructure projects, such as offshore wind farms, worth a total of £10.1bn since its launch three years ago. The Edinburgh-based organisation, which was set up by the coalition government in 2012, has become the most active investor in the UK’s renewable energy and energy efficiency industries, and has also partnered with over 100 co-investors, it announced today. Its investments will produce enough renewable energy to meet the annual electricity needs of every home in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland once built, the bank said in a statement.


€56.2 million provided by the EU to support environmental and resource efficiency projects

A total of 51 projects across Europe have received €56.2 million (£40 million) in funding to focus on environmental and resource efficiency programmes. This should mobilise a total of €103.3 million when co-financing is taken into account. The funding from the LIFE programme will cover projects in five thematic areas, which are air, environment and health, resource efficiency, waste and water.


Meat tax far less unpalatable than government thinks, research finds

Meat production produces 15% of all greenhouse gases – more than all cars, trains, planes and ships combined – and halting global warming appears near impossible unless the world’s fast growing appetite for meat is addressed.  The new analysis says this could be done through taxes, increasing vegetarian food in schools, hospitals and the armed forces and cutting subsidies to livestock farmers, all supported by public information campaigns.


Essena O’Neill: can kids spot covert marketing by social media stars?

In a recent survey of 16- 19-year-olds, participants said most of their online time was spent using websites and apps such as YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. Brands are following them there and partnering with teenagers who have big online followings to whom they can market their products and services. The problems arise when these commercial partnerships aren’t transparent.


Waste and the Circular Economy


HP, Tetra Pak win big with the circular economy

We live on a planet of finite resource, but the current “take-make-waste” linear economy operates as if we could continue sourcing virgin materials forever. As waste mounts, landfills bulge, which creates a slew of aesthetic and environmental issues. It also creates business risks, as virgin materials become increasingly difficult and expensive to source. Rising commodity prices, increasing populations and greater uncertainty with interconnected global supply chains means that companies have been struck with material shortages, pushing up material prices and threatening continuity of operations and margins.


Politics and Society


How to *Use* Human Behavior to Change Human Behavior

We are at a point in time when we really need to commit to ‘out with the old, in with the new.’ However, it’s far easier to get products on to the market than it is to remove problematic ones. But why do people make the choices they make? Rationality, custom and comfort all play a role, so new approaches within psychology and neuroscience have a lot to teach us about behavior change.


Cash big voice in US climate debate

Climate change has long been a highly polarising topic in the United States, with Americans lining up on opposite sides depending on their politics and worldview. Now a scientific study sheds new light on the role played by corporate money in creating that divide. The report, a systematic review of 20 years’ worth of data, highlights the connection between corporate funding and messages that raise doubts about the science of climate change and whether humans are responsible for the warming of the planet. The analysis suggests that corporations have used their wealth to amplify contrarian views and create an impression of greater scientific uncertainty than actually exists.


Can the planet handle China’s new two-child policy?

The country’s decision to ease its one-child decree has raised some serious questions about sustainability. Right now, China consumes about half the cement, steel, aluminum and pork produced in the world. If it allows its citizens to have more children – and presumably use more resources – what will that mean for humanity’s collective wellbeing and its pressing quest for sustainability?


Fonterra ceo Theo Spierings agrees to meet Greenpeace over Indonesian concerns

Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings will meet with Greenpeace next week to discuss concerns New Zealand dairy farmers may be contributing to massive forest fires in Indonesia. Fonterra agreed to the meeting on Friday in the wake of a Greenpeace investigation that suggested Fonterra supplier Wilmar had bought palm kernel expeller (PKE) from at least two plantations that had been involved in burning protected forests and destroying orang-utan habitats.


Built Environment


ACT in talks to roll out electric vehicle charging network

AUSTRALIA – The ACT government has revealed plans to roll out a network of electric vehicle recharging stations as part of its effort to slash the territory’s emissions to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. ACT environment minister Simon Corbell said on Tuesday that the government was talking to network operator ActewAGL about battery charging points across a range of locations, including key interstate roads, in the hope of boosting consumer uptake of EVs.


Will the Cities of the Future Have Cars?

An increasing number of studies are demonstrating the negative impacts caused by high levels of congestion in cities. A second body of research, including the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Growth Within report has begun an investigation into the possibilities of a different future for mobility, specifically looking at the potential for a multi-modal sharing, electric and autonomous system. Growth Within found that average cost per passenger-kilometre could be reduced by 60-80% if existing trends were leveraged appropriately in combination with technological developments.


Food Systems


Sunflower crop flourishes in first for Mackay region, as cane grower experiments with soil health

Sunflowers could be the next big thing in the Mackay region, following the success of one cane grower in producing a commercial crop of the giant yellow flowers. Grower Simon Mattsson is also a Nuffield scholar investigating soil health and his work using sunflowers has gradually expanded this year. Mr Mattsson’s primary reason for growing sunflowers is to improve soil health in between sugar cane crops, but this commercial crop will also earn him income when it is harvested in January.


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