Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Top Story

Personal Choices: One small step into farmers’ markets
Following is an article from Hannah Openshaw, a Sydney researcher and resident, on how she embarked on her own sustainability journey, starting with a farmers’ market.

Environmentalism and sustainability have become mainstream, no longer the domain of people considered to be activists or “hippies”. And so they should be… As an individual I want to be involved and ensure that I reduce my environmental impact and try to live a more sustainable life. I have been searching for ways to do this, and in the process became rather overwhelmed with the sheer volume of information about what I could and should be doing, and what I was doing wrong. This research exercise made me feel as though I needed to change everything about my lifestyle, a thought that is a little daunting and really not ideal or practical in the short term. At the thought of having to change everything, I instead found myself doing nothing.

Energy and Climate Change

Google to convert Alabama coal plant into renewable-powered data centre
Google will convert an old coal-fired power plant in rural Alabama into a data centre powered by renewable power, expanding the company’s move into the energy world.  The technology giant said on Wednesday that it would open its 14th data centre inside the grounds of the old coal plant, and had reached a deal with the Tennessee Valley Authority, the region’s power company, to supply the project with renewable sources of electricity. With the coal plant rehab, Google solidifies a reputation among tech companies for promoting clean energy.

French banks say no to Bangladesh coal plant
Three French banks say they will not invest in Rampal power plant in Bangladesh. As the plant struggles for funding, a report says it is non-compliant with minimum environmental and social standards. Six months earlier, two Norwegian pension funds pulled out their investments from India’s National Thermal Power Corporation that is building the project… Activists are concerned the plant, less than 10 miles from the protected Sundarbans mangrove forest, would lead to its environmental degradation from increased ship traffic, dredging, and pollution of air and water.

Scottish wind farms power almost a million homes in record first quarter
Scottish wind farms produced record amounts of power in the first three months of this year, generating enough electricity to power one million homes for a year, government statistics show. Wind generated 4,452 Gigawatt hours (GWh) over the first quarter of 2015, up 4.3 per cent on the previous record quarter, carrying on from a strong performance in 2014. Last year, 49.8 per cent of all electricity used in Scotland came from renewables, as capacity rose nine per cent over the year to March 2015 to 7.4GW.

Making Renewable Energy Greener
The case for renewables is clear: Evidence shows that, even when including production, maintenance and tear-down costs, wind and solar energy are still significantly greener, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), compared to fossil fuels. Of course that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas in which wind and solar could improve and become even more green. But to make clean energy greener, we need good, reliable data. That is what a new report published in the journal Energy Policy, entitled Assessing the Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Solar PV and Wind Energy: A Critical Meta-Survey, seeks to provide to renewable manufacturers and planners.

Hopes for zero deforestation in Brazil climate plan
Brazil cut its greenhouse gas emissions 41% between 2005 and 2012, largely by slowing destruction of the vast Amazon rainforest.With a UN climate deal in the offing, it is under pressure to bring further emissions cuts to the table.President Dilma Rousseff is expected to reveal some elements of her country’s climate action plan next Tuesday, when she visits Barack Obama in Washington.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Leading health experts call on Wellcome to divest from fossil fuels
A group of high-profile health practitioners, including the editors of the Lancet and the British Medical Journal (BMJ), have called upon the Wellcome Trust to divest from fossil fuels in an open letter published on Thursday in the Guardian. Among the signatories are Anthony Costello, director of the University College London (UCL) Institute for Public Health, Martin McKee, Professor of European Public Health, Fiona Sim, chair of the Royal Society for Public Health, Richard Horton, editor of medical journal the Lancet and Fiona Godlee, editor of the BMJ.

Environment and Biodiversity

Australia’s deep-sea coral reefs could be dead within 50 years: CSIRO scientist
A group of scientists say establishing marine reserves is the cheapest and quickest option for mitigating the degradation of deep-sea coral reefs from climate change. The Marine Conservation Institute (MCI) was responding to concerns about the future of Australia’s deep-sea reefs. Among scientists involved in workshopping options to save the reef was the CSIRO’s Dr Ron Thresher who warned reefs could disappear within 50 years if action is not taken. “Our analysis strongly suggests Australia’s spectacular deep-sea coral reefs are at high risk for extinction,” said Dr Thresher.

Great Barrier Reef: Researchers map coral DNA to pinpoint species most resilient to climate change
Researchers are unlocking the genetic secrets of corals on the Great Barrier Reef in a bid to preserve them for the future. Scientists involved in the world-first study are mapping the DNA of 10 species of coral in the World Heritage Area to work out which are more resilient to threats such as climate change and farm run-off.

Inside the Fight to Stop Giraffes’ ‘Silent Extinction’
Giraffe researcher Julian Fennessy recently boarded a helicopter in Ethiopia’s Gambella National Park, which borders the turbulent new nation of South Sudan. His mission: To collar giraffes and collect tissue samples from the animals, which have been rapidly disappearing from Africa in what Fennessy calls a “silent extinction.”

Madagascar’s lemurs cling to survival
The famous lemurs of Madagascar face such severe threats to their survival that none of them may be left in the wild within 25 years. That stark warning comes from one of the world’s leading specialists in the iconic animals.  Deforestation and hunting are taking an increasing toll, according to Professor Jonah Ratsimbazafy, director of GERP, a centre for primate research in Madagascar.

Drastic action to save endangered tortoise
In a desperate bid to save one of the world’s most endangered animals, conservationists are taking the controversial step of defacing the last survivors.  Ploughshare tortoises are highly prized for their distinctive gold and black shells and fetch exceptionally high prices on the international black market. Efforts to steal the animals from their native Madagascar are so relentless that there may only be less than 500 left.  So the tortoises are now having their shells permanently engraved with a large serial number together with the initials “MG” for Madagascar.

Saving the dhole: The forgotten ‘badass’ Asian dog more endangered than tigers
Let’s start at the beginning: what’s a dhole? It’s not a giant fruit corporation. It’s not Homer Simpson’s catch phrase. It’s not welfare payment by a government. Dholes are actually wild canids, efficient predators and communal pack hunters. These rust-coloured carnivores roam the jungles and montane forests of Central and East Asia filling the humid air with whistles, howls and screeches that chill the heart of any sambar deer or wild boar. There have even been reports of dhole packs hounding – and, maybe even, killing – tigers.

Economy and Business

Report: Ratings agencies ignoring financial risks of climate change
Financial ratings agencies such as Moody’s and S&P could be repeating the mistakes of the financial crisis by failing to account for the risks of climate change, a new report has warned.  Legal lobby group the Centre for International Environment Law (CIEL) claims that agencies are handing out ratings for fossil fuel projects, based on a business-as-usual scenario synonymous with 4C global warming.

UN Global Compact Unveils Website to Spur Sustainable Business
The UN Global Compact (UNGC) has launched a new official website aimed at spurring corporate sustainability action. Designed to support business at all stages along the corporate sustainability journey — from those companies that are just learning how to integrate sustainability into their business, to the most advanced companies operating on the leading edge — the website helps make the business case for corporate sustainability and shows how companies can engage on specific issues, such as gender equality and climate. It also provides ideas for leadership practices, such as engaging boards of directors and setting long-term sustainability goals.

Sam Judd: Farmers that lead the way
NEW ZEALAND – We have heard plenty in the news about the problems associated with farming. As land use intensifies, our rivers receive more and more nutrients and the result is that you can’t swim in over 80 per cent of them after rain. 40 per cent of New Zealand’s land area is used by pastoral farming and the great shift away from sheep and towards dairy cattle (which have gone up a herd of 3.4 million to 5.9 million from 1990 – 2010) has increased the impact on waterways dramatically. So what are we going to do about this?

Waste and the Circular Economy

WRAP calls for ‘resource revolution’ in latest five-year plan
The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) will today publish a new five-year plan detailing how it plans to tackle resource waste in homes, businesses, and the public sector. The formerly government-backed waste advisory charity’s plan, entitled “Resource Revolution: Creating the Future” has identified “three ‘R’s of the future” – reinvent, rethink and redefine – which it will be encouraging individuals, businesses and governments to adopt when considering wastee materials. WRAP argues that companies should redesign the way that products are designed, produced and sold, in a bid to improve their resource efficiency and address escalating supply risks for a host of key materials.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation values EU circular economy at €1.8trn
A pan-European transition to a circular economy would generate around €1.8trn of benefit for European economies every year, a major new report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has claimed. The Growth Within report – the subject of a nine-month study – presents a vision of how the circular economy could look for three of Europe’s most resource-intensive sectors: food, mobility and the built environment.

Politics and Society

Farmers call on Liberals to snuff out internal push by climate sceptic conservatives
Farmers are circulating an open letter calling on the Liberal Party to kill off an internal push to derail Australia making meaningful commitments at the upcoming Paris climate talks. The letter, which describes farmers as being “on the front line of rising temperatures and more extreme weather”, urges the Liberals to resoundingly defeat a climate sceptic motion to be debated at its federal council meeting on Saturday. Party members and elected officials will consider the motion that a committee of Parliament should “examine the evidence” around climate change before agreeing to any post-2020 emissions cuts.

Climate change activists arrested after descending roof of Parliament
NEW ZEALAND – Four Greenpeace activists who scaled the roof of Parliament on Thursday in a climate change protest have been charged with trespassing. Applause and  toots  of a bike greeted them as they made it down, one by one, around  5pm  on Thursday.  The four had abseiled down onto a ledge at 6.30am on Thursday morning and put together a solar panel array and unfurled a banner criticising Prime Minister John Key on climate change.

Built Environment

LandCorp raises the bar with WA’s first One Planet Living residential development
AUSTRALIA – Perth is celebrating a new benchmark in sustainable living with the launch of the state’s first One Planet Living residential community in Fremantle. White Gum Valley, a two-hectare residential precinct due for completion in two years and set to be home to 150 residents in about 80 dwellings, will feature homes with a number of environmental, energy and water saving initiatives expected to slash household bills by $1200 a year, cut grid energy use by 60 per cent and mains water use by 70 per cent compared with the Perth average.

Sydney councils and businesses unite to tackle resilience
AUSTRALIA – Experts from Greater Sydney’s 41 councils have joined forces with business and community groups to begin work on the city’s Resilient Cities program, as part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities Initiative, a group of global cities developing climate change-resilient communities. The agenda setting workshop held today (Thursday) is expected to set objectives for Sydney’s participation in the program in order to progress solutions to extreme weather events, such as April’s heavy storm and hail event, as well as issues such as housing affordability.

Urban forests guide launched in Melbourne
Australia’s first guide to growing urban forests is being launched in Melbourne. Inspired by that city’s commitment to plant 3000 trees a year, it aims to help urban councils create more liveable, cooler communities. Backed by the city’s council and the Victorian Government, it’s part of a campaign to increase Australia’s urban green space by 20 per cent by 2020.

Assemble launches small footprint living survey
AUSTRALIA – Following the Victorian government’s announcement that it will reopen the discussion on apartment design standards, residential property developer Assemble has launched a survey to understand what people want out of medium- and high-density living. The National Small Footprint Living survey asks people how they live now and how they would like to live in the future.


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