Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Vulnerable families $1000 a year better off in low-carbon housing: study
AUSTRALIA – Public housing tenants would be $1000 a year better off, more comfortable and healthier in low-carbon housing, according to a new study out of RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research, though narrow cost-benefit analyses could stop these houses from taking off. The three-year study funded by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services involved the construction of four super sustainable two-bedroom “Catalyst” houses in Horsham, Victoria.

Evergen-SystemEnergy and Climate Change

CSIRO-made smart solar and storage system launched by Evergen
Activity is ramping up in Australia’s residential energy management sector – part of the “internet of things” that is widely considered to be a key ingredient for mass uptake of distributed renewables – with the launch of a new solar and battery storage optimisation platform from tech start-up Evergen. Evergen’s technology, which was developed by the CSIRO and has been backed by AMP Capital, uses a household’s power consumption patterns and weather forecasts to decide when to use solar power, when to store it, and when to draw from the battery or the grid, according to what is the most cost-effective for the household.

Environment and Biodiversity

Surface water shifting around the Earth
Scientists have used satellite images to study how the water on the Earth’s surface has changed over 30 years.  They found that 115,000 sq km (44,000 sq miles) of land is now covered in water and 173,000 sq km (67,000 sq miles) of water has now become land.

Oil, gas and marine parks really can coexist in our oceans – here’s how
In a new study published in Scientific Reports, we looked at the current and proposed marine reserves off northwest Australia – an area that is also home to significant oil and gas resources. Our findings show how conservation objectives could be met more efficiently. Using technical advances, including the latest spatial modelling software, we were able to fill major gaps in biodiversity representation, with minimal losses to industry.

Deep sea divers provide first close up look at colourful reef off Tasmanian east coast
AUSTRALIA – Rare black coral, colourful sponges and abundant marine life have been revealed in the first close-up footage of a recently mapped reef off Tasmania’s east coast. Deep sea divers have explored the reef off Bicheno in the Freycinet Commonwealth Marine Reserve, capturing footage of their close-up look at marine life about 70 metres under the surface.  It is known to fishermen as Joe’s Reef, but detail about exactly what is there has remained a mystery because of its depth.

Photo: It is the first time divers have seen tree-forming black corals off Tasmania

Photo: It is the first time divers have seen tree-forming black corals off Tasmania

Perth Zoo orangutan released into Sumatran wild
An orangutan born at Perth Zoo has been released into the Sumatran jungle as part of a world-leading program. The male orangutan, named Nyaru, is the third to be released from the zoo. The eight-year-old ape was put through “Jungle School” ahead of its departure – learning to find food and water, make a nest and stay in the trees.

Rare Desert Lions of ‘Five Musketeers’ Fame Poisoned
A trio of male lions died earlier this month after they were poisoned—but they weren’t just any big cats. They were three of the five brothers, known as “the five musketeers,” who starred in the film Vanishing Kings: Lions of the Namib, which aired on the National Geographic Channel earlier this year. The film traced their pride through the desert… It’s suspected that this was an act of retaliation by farmers who had laced a donkey carcass with poison after the lions had killed the donkey… With no more than 150 lions remaining in the country, the unnatural loss of any of them is cause for concern.

Five desert lions look out over the Namibian landscape. Three desert lions, who were featured in a National Geographic film earlier this year, died in August after eating a donkey carcass laced with poison.

Five desert lions look out over the Namibian landscape. Three desert lions, who were featured in a National Geographic film earlier this year, died in August after eating a donkey carcass laced with poison.
Photograph by ORF-Enterprise GmbH & Co/ Will & Liane Steenkamp

Feral animals are running amok on Australia’s islands – here’s how to stop them
Australia has some 8,300 islands, many of them home to threatened species. But humans have introduced rodents and predators such as feral cats and foxes to many of these islands, devastating native wildlife and changing entire island ecosystems. Removing invasive mammals has proven to be a very effective tool for protecting island species. As a result, the federal government has made it a priority to remove invasive vertebrates from islands where they pose the most severe threats to native plants and animals.

Volunteers needed to help protect Waikato kokako population
There is an open invitation for people to be involved with the protection of one of New Zealand’s threatened birds, the kokako. Last year, the Pirongia Te Aroaro o Kahu Restoration Society gained funding to protect a key remnant population of kokako at Okahukura in Northern Pureora Forest, about one and a half hours drive south east from Te Kuiti… The site is remote and so the society has arranged accommodation, free of charge, at Pureora Forest Park Lodge for the weekends when baiting is scheduled. The pest control last year was a success, with 80 volunteers and rat populations [dropping] to 3.3 per cent from 46.6 per cent in a 1000 hectare area. In June this year, kokako were surveyed in the area and showed an increase from 22 pairs in 2012, to 45 pairs.

Hungry bees need your help
NEW ZEALAND – Do you look out for bees in Southland? Southland Bee Society members are launching a fundraising project to encourage people to plant bee friendly plants. Chairman Murry Christensen said it was becoming increasingly hard for bees to find enough pollen in Southland.  A lot of farmers and owners of lifestyle blocks had been removing high pollinating plants like gorse and willow trees in an effort to make their properties aesthetically pleasing, he said.

Pirongia students learn about eco systems
Forty children from the Pirongia School in the Waikato grasped the opportunity to see first hand how dairy farming and natural environments can co-exist. The children spent a day in the care of Department of Conservation ranger Mike Paviour as part of the schools Enviro Day project recently. Prior to their visit the students had undertaken classroom learning about the ecological system surrounding waterways and then were able to view it at Lake Ruatuna, one of three peat lakes which are a part of the Fonterra-funded Living Waters Programme.

Community and schools partners to help restore wetlands
NEW ZEALAND – Wetlands are often misunderstood. By-and-large they’ve been forgotten about, ploughed up, hoofed up, dredged up and in some cases actively drained out. It’s been estimated that about 90 per cent of our wetlands have been drained and only occupy about 2 per cent of New Zealand’s land area. Once covering large areas of the Waikato, they’re now some of our at-risk ecosystems. Why should we care? Well, they are clever at filtering and transforming contaminants lost from the land that could harm our river.

Endangered species often wait 12 years or more to be listed for protection
Delays in listing endangered species on the U.S.’s endangered species list is pushing many of them towards extinction, a new study has found. The Endangered Species Act (ESA), one of U.S.’s leading environmental laws, serves to protect species that are at risk of extinction. But to receive protection, species must be first listed as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). This listing process has a two-year timeline, according to an amendment passed by the Congress in 1982. But many species end up waiting for much longer, a study published in Biological Conservation has found.

Economy and Business

Finance guide for policy-makers
Implementation of national clean energy or ‘green’ infrastructure plans will require unprecedented levels of private investment, not only for climate reasons, through NDCs [Nationally Determined Contributions], but also to deliver energy security and access to energy for those who lack them, as well as creating the conditions for sustainable development. Now, more than ever, it is critically important for policy-makers and non-financiers to understand and interface with the financial community to establish effective conditions at national level, where the investment case will have to be made.

Why you should grab a piece of the sharing economy
In nine years’ time, we estimate the world’s “sharing economy” will expand by nearly 12 times, to reach $300 billion. Peer-to-peer lending, accommodations, ridesharing, content streaming and online outsourcing are undergoing an unprecedented expansion, but their current size represents a fraction of what companies will “share” in the future. Once corporate giants begin to disaggregate their physical assets to be consumed as services, the next phase of providing access to excess capacity over the Internet — not just by people, but also by companies — will dwarf anything we’ve witnessed so far.

Would you wear wool shoes to save the environment?
With a population of 4.6 million people and 29.5 million sheep, New Zealand has roughly six sheep for every person. And now, the wooly beasts are helping drive a new movement: farm-to-foot. Typically, most of our footwear is made from either natural materials (such as leather or canvas), or synthetic, petroleum-based materials (such as rubber, plastic or cloth). Few manufacturers opt for wool, though. Yet, unlike other natural materials, wool can absorb moisture, is breathable and offers a sustainable alternative to rubber, making it perfect for use in footwear.

Snowboarding Sustainably, Boardcraft and the Environment
As snowboarders, we depend on nature to be able go out and do what we love to do. We rely on the mountains, precipitation and weather systems that create the ideal riding conditions, but what’s often forgotten is our reliance on physical materials to actually build the boards we ride and the impact that has on the planet.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Rejection of recyclable waste by local authorities has soared
A Freedom of Information request by the BBC has found that the amount of material destined for recycling that has been rejected has jumped by 84% over four years… The BBC largely attributes this to householder contamination resulting from a lack of understanding about recycling schemes across the country. With different materials being collected across the country, the report says that householders are confused about what can and can’t be placed in their recycling bins. The Recycling Association chief executive Simon Ellins agrees that collections confusion is a problem, but says that there are other contributing factors to take into consideration.

Plastics firm to generate new revenue from recycling efforts
SPI’s new Zero Net Waste programme recognizes companies that have taken steps to eliminate waste throughout the plastics manufacturing life cycle. According to a report by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation, most packaging is used only once with 95 per cent of the value of plastic packaging material – worth $80 billion to $120 billion per year – lost to the economy.

UK Chefs, MPs Calling for Bans on Polystyrene Packaging, Microbeads
Polystyrene packaging and microbeads are no strangers to controversy; both materials harm marine life and can enter the food chain, which has prompted concern from consumers and advocacy groups. Cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. have gone so far as to ban polystyrene packaging – and now four London-based chefs are calling for the same in England’s capital.

Japan to make 2020 Olympic medals from e-waste
For the 2020 Olympic Games, Japan is planning to make medals out of electronic waste and home appliances. This year, Brazil used gold extracted without the use of mercury and silver and bronze from recycled sources. Japan wants to follow up on Rio 2016 Olympic Games’ focus on sustainability.

Australian wealth distribution, 2012

Australian wealth distribution, 2012

Politics and Society

A world with inequality everywhere is a moral and economic threat
There is growing evidence that inequality is increasing not only in Australia but internationally within the advanced industrial economies. The age of endless growth in prosperity for everyone is a distant memory of a more hopeful age. Australia, the land of the fair go, has in the past presented a bulwark against the ugly inequality that has openly disfigured US and UK society, and is increasingly evident throughout Europe. But this week’s Chifley Research Centre report on inequality reveals how far Australia has slipped from its ideals of fairness and equity.

Exxon, the Olympics and Greenwashing 2.0
[An] unexpected educational benefit I have derived from watching so much Olympic coverage is that I learned something important about the industry I have been employed in for the past 25 years. To wit: ExxonMobil is an alternative energy company. Exxon is turning algae into biofuel; it is working on carbon capture from conventional power plants; it is working on electric vehicles. I can’t believe that I did not know about green Exxon! All this time, there has been this colossus in our alternative energy midst, and I didn’t know it. I now know all of this thanks to a juggernaut of an advertising campaign by Exxon on NBC during its Olympic coverage. In case you missed all of the reported 233 airings, you can view Exxon’s “to do list” commercial on YouTube.

President says ecosystem vital for sustainable development
CHINA – PROTECTING the ecosystem is “the most important foundation” of sustainable development, President Xi Jinping said during a tour of the northwestern province of Qinghai. Describing the region’s ecosystem as its “biggest merit, responsibility and potential,” Xi said measures must be taken to ensure economic, social and environmental development proceed hand-in-hand. He told local officials of his desire for Qinghai to be a model of eco-friendly development, circular economy and ethnic solidarity.

Government urged to tear up surplus carbon credits, not use them to meet target
NEW ZEALAND – The Government has been urged to “tear up” its surplus carbon credits instead of using them to meet climate targets. The nearly 86 million surplus credits were described as “laundered” by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in a recent report. Co-leader of the Green Party James Shaw said using the surplus credits was like “trying to have two meals for the price of one”. “We only have as much of a surplus as we do because we allowed the import of these fraudulent Russians and Ukrainians carbon credits.”

In legal storm over lake, a pledge to stop pollution “by hook or by crook”
NEW ZEALAND – A campaigner disgusted at pollution in Lake Horowhenua says he will block a stormwater pipe himself if courts don’t resolve his dispute with the local council. Phil Taueki issued the warning in the High Court at Wellington on Thursday, when the ghosts of an agreement signed 43 years ago appeared. But the council’s lawyer said the local authority was taking “meaningful steps” to address pollution, and Taueki did not represent all the lake’s trustees.

Built Environment

How to make old houses energy-efficient
A 100-year old Victorian cottage in Albert Park with terrible thermal and energy performance is now achieving six star NatHERS and high air tightness following renovation and extension. Nick Travers, director of Techne Architecture + Interior Design, the practice behind the project, says it’s possible for any property to get good performance outcomes if the basic structure is robust.

Food Systems

Few fish dumping prosecutions, figures show
NEW ZEALAND – New figures on fish dumping prosecutions appear to back critics who say commercial boats are getting away with breaking the law. A fisheries inspector’s report leaked in May this year said inaction by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) was making dumping and overfishing worse. The ministry said it prosecuted on average 300 fisheries cases a year, but now figures released under the Official Information Act showed less than 1 percent were for dumping fish.


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