Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Victoria’s Hazelwood power station to close, French media reports say
French utility Engie has decided to close down Victoria’s coal-fired Hazelwood power station – Australia’s most polluting – at a meeting between the board and executives last week, according to a report in the French newspaper Les Echos.  However the company told Guardian Australia that no decision had been taken so far regarding the future of the plant.

Energy and Climate Change

CO2 levels mark ‘new era’ in the world’s changing climate
Levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have surged past an important threshold and may not dip below it for “many generations”. The 400 parts per million benchmark was broken globally for the first time in recorded history in 2015. But according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), 2016 will likely be the first full year to exceed the mark.

How did Germany get its energy transition right?
Germany is well recognized as an international leader in renewable energy today, but that wasn’t always the case. Its transition from coal and nuclear power started two decades before the first major renewable energy policy initiatives were passed. From Germany’s dramatic renewable energy transition to its recent decision to reduce support for renewable energy, its experience can teach California some valuable lessons.

Environment and Biodiversity

Watch How Bees Teach Each Other to Solve Problems
Bee see, bee do. At least that’s the conclusion of research published earlier this month, showing that bumblebees learn to solve problems by watching each other. In the first study of its kind in insects, scientists constructed experiments that challenged bees to pull strings in order to access rewards of nectar. It’s a technique that has long been used to test cognition in various vertebrates, but hadn’t yet been tried with insects.

In Myanmar’s Irrawady Delta, a rapidly disintegrating mangrove forest
IRRAWADY DELTA, Myanmar – In a country with forests under increasing threat, Myanmar’s southern Irrawady Delta is home to one last precious pocket of green: Mein-ma-hla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary. Although the Irrawady Delta plays host to the country’s largest remaining area of mangrove forest – 46 percent – here, too, the unique trees are rapidly disappearing and the impact has been devastating. Over the past three decades, about 83 percent of mangroves in the area have been lost, according to Win Maung of Myanmar Environmental Rehabilitation Network. Other estimates are slightly more conservative, at 75 percent.

Belize suspends oil exploration near World Heritage Site after public outcry
Last week, the government of Belize announced that it would begin oil exploration in the Atlantic-Caribbean waters, very close to the world’s second largest reef system — the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System World Heritage site. The surveys, scheduled to start on October 20, were initiated a day earlier, angering environmentalists, tourism groups, and other stakeholders. Following public outcry, Belize officials have agreed to suspend their activities. They also plan to hold consultation meetings with the various stakeholders to chart out their future course of action.

Economy and Business

GRI Global Standards Push Momentum for Sustainable Development
On Wednesday, the GRI announced the launch of the world’s first Global Reporting Standards for sustainability reporting. These new standards give businesses large and small a common language for reporting non-financial information. They dovetail with recent global initiatives, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement, in advancing integrated, un-siloed cooperation and transparency to address common challenges for a world in transition.

Industrial scars: The environmental cost of consumption – in pictures
Environmental artist J Henry Fair captures the beauty and destruction of industrial sites to illustrate the hidden impacts of the things we buy – the polluted air, destroyed habitats and the invisible carbon heating the planet.


Kayford mountain, West Virginia, US

Kayford mountain, West Virginia, US
Mountaintop removal mining operations work around the clock at amazing speed; this lonely stand of trees disappeared in barely a day. The small bulldozer on the upper level pushes loose material down to the loader, which scoops it up into the next earth mover in line, which will in turn dump it into a nearby ‘valley fill’, burying the stream there. Photograph: J Henry Fair/Industrial Scars/Papadakis Publisher

Beautiful but deadly: poisonous Lake Forsyth’s neon blue streaks
NEW ZEALAND – A poisonous Canterbury lake has vivid blue streaks on its surface, caused by deadly algae washing ashore. Consuming one teaspoon of the alga could be deadly. Lake Forsyth on Banks Peninsula has been overrun with toxic cyanobacteria this year.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Three household products you could cut to help the environment
If you sat down and tried to think about the number of different chemicals we voluntarily expose ourselves to in our day-to-day lives, your head would probably explode. Even before we have left the house in the morning, our bodies are bathed in a dizzying assortment of chemicals and substances; in our toothpaste, our personal care products, our clothes, our cleaning products, on our pets, in our plastics, and on our surfaces. Some of them are unnecessary, possibly ineffective, and can have devastating consequences for the environment.

Retro-electric: making petrol-guzzling cars eco-friendly
Big breakthroughs in battery technology have raised hopes the electric car can transform the auto industry and set us free from fossil fuel dependence. Some small businesses are determined to make sure the electric revolution is as environmentally friendly as possible. And their vision of the future relies on repackaging the past. Since manufacturing new cars is energy-intensive and polluting, these specialists believe transforming old, petrol-guzzling cars into clean, green electric vehicles can play an important part in reducing carbon emissions.


A 1966 VW Beetle retrofitted and electrified by Zelectric Motors. Photograph: Zelectric Motors

A 1966 VW Beetle retrofitted and electrified by Zelectric Motors. Photograph: Zelectric Motors

UK government boosts local air quality with £3m in funding
Annual funding for local air quality management in England has been restored to previous levels, reversing a chronic decline, reports The ENDS Report… The government has stumped up £3m to fund English local authorities’ work to monitor and improve air quality. The air quality grant for 2016/17 was announced on 6 October and is six times greater than the amount allocated for the current financial year.

Politics and Society

The curious power of hate propaganda in open societies
When George Orwell contemplated trends toward tyranny in 1984, he saw a world where truths were violently obliterated to leave Big Brother’s lies unchallenged. This negation of knowledge and erasure of human experience, he mused, was “… more terrifying than mere torture or death.” But something curious has happened in the post-totalitarian world, which even Orwell’s penetrating gaze did not foresee.  Today, demagogues don’t actually need to silence or censor their opponents. It turns out their followers are quite happy to succumb to wilful blindness, believing what they want to believe even as contradictory evidence stares them in the face.

What does peace in Colombia have to do with the environment?
After 52 years of war, the government finalised a peace accord to cease conflict and construct stable and long lasting peace in Colombia… Without a doubt, the armed conflict has left a footprint on Colombian landscapes and ecosystems… According to the government, the country could save $2.2bn (£1.8bn) a year in environmental damages. From 1990 to 2013, 58% of the deforestation in the country took place in areas affected by the conflict, with 3m lost hectares.

Pope Francis’s edict on climate change has fallen on closed ears, study finds
The pope’s call for action on climate change has fallen on closed ears, research suggests. A study by researchers in the US has found that right-leaning Catholics who had heard of the pope’s message were less concerned about climate change and its effects on the poor than those who had not, and had a dimmer view of the pope’s credibility.  “The pope and his papal letter failed to rally any broad support on climate change among the US Catholics and non-Catholics,” said Nan Li, first author of the research from Texas Tech University. “The conservative Catholics who are cross-pressured by the inconsistency between the viewpoints of their political allies and their religious authority would tend to devalue the pope’s credibility on this issue in order to resolve the cognitive dissonance that they experience,” she added.

What’s the big driver for Co-op housing? We ask…and find many answers
The desire for people to be connected to their community and share resources is driving the “mainstreaming” of co-operative living around Australia, according to industry representatives. South Australians who are curious about co-operative living will join delegates from NSW, Victoria and Western Australia to learn about different ways of living co-operatively with a view to forming their own communities at the Create Community Anywhere National Co-op Housing Symposium in Adelaide this weekend (Saturday 29 October).

Green activist ban on Turnbull agenda
AUSTRALIA – Malcolm Turnbull has flagged a fresh attempt at passing laws to prevent environmentalists using the courts to block major projects, before his week-long visit to Queensland. Labor and the Greens blocked a previous attempt by the Abbott government to prevent people with political agendas from using the courts to disrupt and delay projects such as coal mines.

Built Environment

Rich investors seeking social housing projects
NEW ZEALAND – Wealthy investors are meeting with community housing providers from across the country today in a bid to find urgent solutions to the housing shortage. Housing providers say hundreds of millions of dollars is needed every year to build low income homes, but private investors say they’re struggling to find the right projects.

Food Systems

10 tips for eating locally and cutting the energy used to produce your food
Being a “locavore” means choosing food that is grown locally, and is one way that you can help ensure there is more food to go around.  To feed the predicted nine billion people in the world in 2050, the world will need to produce 70-100% more food. This unprecedented increase in food production will require substantial changes in soil management, land cultivation, and crop production.  This cannot be achieved without technological advances that increase crop yield and reduce the need to use nitrogen-based fertilisers. The question is how this can be achieved sustainably, while also tackling climate change.  This is where “eating local” comes in.

We sent a vegetarian to see if meatless burgers can convert carnivores
I hold the burger with both hands and bring it, somewhat trepidatiously, to my mouth. I commit myself to at least one bite. As I close my eyes and chew, some long dormant receptor in my mind comes alive and for a split second it’s 1986 again and I am eating a hamburger at a family cookout in Chicago. This is the first time I’ve eaten meat in 30 years – except, this is not meat.

Bid to double irrigation in threatened species’ ‘stronghold’
NEW ZEALAND – A handful of farms want to further intensify the Mackenzie Basin, described as a “stronghold” for rare and threatened species that exist nowhere else in the world. Six of the eight farms that make up the Benmore Irrigation Company (BIC) have applied to nearly double their irrigable area. Opponents say it would be disastrous for a unique landscape home to more than a hundred species of native plants and birds.

The orange outlined areas are proposed for irrigation. They overlap Outstanding Natural Features marked in yellow.

The orange outlined areas are proposed for irrigation. They overlap Outstanding Natural Features marked in yellow.

Hemp industry ready for law change
NEW ZEALAND – New Zealand and Australia are out-of-step with many other countries around the world by not allowing the sale of hemp seed food products, the hemp industry says. Ministers from New Zealand and Australia, including Food Safety Minister Jo Goodhew, will be meeting next month and a renewed proposal to allow the sale of food derived from hemp seeds could be on their agenda.


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