Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Living with complexity: evolution, ecology, viruses and climate change
Biomedical researchers like me probe the mechanistic basis of health and disease. In a long career working at the discovery end of the spectrum, I’ve been privileged to live through, and make some small contribution to, an extraordinary (and continuing) revolution in medical understanding and human well-being…

Recently, our thinking is increasingly dictated by the need to engage with massive data sets. In that and many other senses, we find ourselves talking a language of complexity that spans fields as different as cancer research, animal ecology and climate science. In effect, diverse threads of the vast interrogation of nature we call science are coming together in a rich and mutually informative intellectual tapestry. Avoiding technical detail, I’ll try to take you just a little way down that road.

Energy and Climate Change

Justin Wu: What does a China slowdown really mean for clean energy?
…There is an echo of those European Enlightenment attitudes towards China even today. For instance, on the country’s huge efforts on clean energy, outsiders are skeptical about China’s ability to make the most of the huge sums it has been investing. They recognize that the country is currently a leader in the field, having invested $111 billion in clean energy in 2015, more than any other country in history and a full one third of the global total in a record year. But the skeptics point out that the economic headlines in recent months have been dominated with the story of the “China slowdown”. The country’s GDP grew, according to official accounts, by 6.9 percent in 2015.

ACT targets 600 homes in second round of battery storage tender
The ACT government continues to lead the field in battery storage incentives in Australia, announcing on Wednesday morning that it will target around 600 Canberra homes and businesses in the second round of its battery storage tender. The new funding round will make $2 million available, which ACT environment and energy minister Simon Corbell says should result in about 2MW of battery storage capacity. It is part of an overall program to fund around 36MW of battery storage, the largest supported program in Australia by quite a distance.

How Robin Hood brings community energy to the 7 Shires
In one of the most pristine parts of Australia, where the coastal surf culture flows into the Hippie tide washing down from the hinterlands, a small revolution is taking part. The famous little surfer town Byron Bay became home for the Robin Hood of the future, Australia’s first community-owned energy retailer.

Adani identifies 650MW large-scale solar projects in Australia
India energy group Adani has identified 650MW of large-scale solar projects in Australia it wants to develop as it seeks to become one of the biggest renewable energy developers in the country, even though it insists it still wants to push ahead with the controversial Carmichael mega coal mine.

United States 70% “On The Path To SunShot”
The United States is 70% on the way to achieving the country’s SunShot Initiative 2020 goals, according to analysts and researchers at the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Earlier this month, a suite of studies was published by the US Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Initiative which identify the progress that has already been made by the US solar energy industry toward achieving the country’s SunShot goal of achieving cost parity with traditional energy sources by 2020.

Environment and Biodiversity

What social insects can teach us about resilient infrastructure
Accidents, natural disasters and random or targeted attacks can cripple human infrastructure. Our transportation networks, supply chains and communication networks are increasing in size and becoming more complex as our populations grow. How do we protect those networks from becoming vulnerable and failing? Social insects may provide some inspiration.

The Illegal Pet Trade Is Wiping Out Indonesia’s Birds
Indonesians on the island of Java have an old saying: A man is considered to be a real man if he has a house, a wife, a horse, a keris (dagger), and a bird. The sprawling island nation is home to more than 1,600 species of birds, more than almost any other country in the world. It’s also home to the greatest number of species that are threatened by the bird trade.
See also: Indonesian birds face extinction due to pet trade – study

Thousands of birds are for sale at markets in Indonesia, along with many other protected species. Photograph by Mark Leong, National Geographic

Thousands of birds are for sale at markets in Indonesia, along with many other protected species.
Photograph by Mark Leong, National Geographic


Queensland commits to fixing water quality in the Great Barrier Reef
Current measures are not enough to protect the Great Barrier Reef, according to experts in a government report released today. After a year of careful analysis, the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce has delivered its final report to the Queensland environment minister, Steven Miles. This is part of efforts to resource the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, which was designed to meet the challenges facing the reef.
See also: Great Barrier Reef: advisers call for cap on farm pollution

Coral death stops fish detecting predators (Audio 7:02)
The smell of dead coral from bleaching in reefs off Australia’s east coast is having dramatic repercussions for small reef fish, who rely on their sense of smell to learn about and avoid predators, say scientists. Professor Mark McCormick, who studies coral reef fish at James Cook University, talks with Kathryn Ryan.

Coral species may find respite from bleaching more than 40 metres below, UN report
Deep below the waves, coral species are less likely to be affected by bleaching. This fact has given scientists a glimmer of hope that deeper waters could act as refuges for reef systems undergoing mass bleaching.

Conservation Department name areas targeted in Battle for our Birds 1080 drop
NEW ZEALAND – Ten sites in the Fiordland National Park will be targeted with 1080 drops this year. The Conservation Department identified the priority sites as part of planning for the second Battle For Our Birds pest control programme. The ten sites were the Waitutu Forest, Kepler Mountains, Hollyford Valley, Mt Forbes peninsula, Grebe Valley, Eglinton Valley, Dusky Sound area, Clinton Valley, Cleddau area, and the Arthur Valley, including Sinbad Gully. The sites were chosen based on where rare or endangered native species were under the greatest threat.

Northland’s neglected native forests need our help (Opinion)
NEW ZEALAND – This year’s Battle for Our Birds predator control programme to tackle a jump in predator numbers in beech forests is great news, but we need a similar Save Our Forests campaign in Northland. A big spike in food available to predators in Northland’s collapsing native forests requires urgent action too. The flocks of kākā, kākāriki and kūkupa, or kererū, are gone from Northland’s forests due to the impact of predators including rats, feral cats and stoats.

Economy and Business

Reducing energy use is a big winner for business and the climate
Companies could improve their profits by 2-10% each year by saving energy. That’s just one of the findings of ClimateWorks Australia’s Energy Productivity Index, a world-first attempt to assess companies’ energy performance and help investors make better decisions… My colleagues and I have developed a guide to help investors figure out how potential investments are performing. We assessed 70 companies across six industrial sectors: airlines, automobiles, paper, steel, chemicals and construction.

Global clean energy employment rose 5% in 2015, figures show
A boom in solar and wind power jobs in the US led the way to a global increase in renewable energy employment to more than 8 million people in 2015, according to a report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). More than 769,000 people were employed in renewable energy in the US in 2015, dwarfing the 187,000 employed in the oil and gas sector and the 68,000 in coal mining. The gap is set to grow further, with jobs in solar and wind growing by more than 20% in 2015, while oil and gas jobs fell by 18% as the fossil fuel industry struggled with low prices.

Hypersensitive Exxon bans Guardian from AGM
Keep it in the ground, this newspaper has argued for ages on fossil fuels. Then keep out of our annual meeting, replies ExxonMobil. Or, to quote Exxon’s media relations manager, Alan Jeffers: “We are denying your request [to attend Wednesday’s meeting] because of the Guardian’s lack of objectivity on climate change reporting demonstrated by its partnership with anti-oil and gas activists and its campaign against companies that provide energy necessary for modern life, including newspapers.”

Walker Corp, Pembroke and Charter Hall part of Westpac’s new $500 million climate bond
Three of Australia’s leading property owners now have buildings in the climate bond family thanks to Westpac’s first directly issued climate bond for A$500 million. In late breaking news on Wednesday, Westpac Group said it had priced its first Climate Bond, raising A$500 million to fund renewable energy and low carbon commercial property in Australia.

Politics and Society

World’s parliament for the environment to tackle global issues
For only the second time in its 44-year history, the United Nations Environment Programme is hosting a meeting of the world’s environment ministers, which will take place this week at its headquarters in Nairobi. The aim is for governments to agree common policies, with 21 proposed resolutions on the table for issues from illegal wildlife trade to plastic in the oceans. Will any of them make a difference? UNEP calls the UN Environment Assembly “the world’s de facto parliament for the environment”, but it is not a parliament with a constitutional role in a government. Other UN agencies such as the World Health Organisation have ministerial meetings every year, and their decisions are to some extent binding under international law.

Atrocious toilets and too few bins: why we’re not eco-friendly at work
Most of us ignore our environmental responsibilities in the workplace, research suggests. We asked you to share your experiences – and this is what you told us.

Marae opens its doors to those in need
NEW ZEALAND – An Auckland marae which has opened its doors for those in need is calling on others to do the same. Last week, Te Puea Marae offered shelter to the homeless and today they launched a support programme for those looking for help called Manaaki Tangata.

Young mum gets cooking for local car-dwellers
AUCKLAND – A young mother whose 2-year-old daughter died a violent death four years ago is now organising a group of Papakura residents to feed local families who are living in cars… Ms Lorigan now lives in Papakura with a new partner, welder Isaac Smith, who is helping her to take soup and other hot food to a group of up to 20 homeless people sleeping in their cars at nearby Bruce Pulman Park because of Auckland’s desperate shortage of affordable housing.

Built Environment

Coastal flooding: a sign of the damage our economy is wreaking on our fragile environment
In January this year, I visited friends in Miami. One of the most urgent topics of conversation was about what they saw as the greatest problem faced by the city – rising water levels, and a long-standing reluctance on the part of government and business to take the necessary steps to control the extensive damage. From inundated homes, shops and roads, to fresh water pollution and sewage being forced upwards, the impacts are widespread.

Sydney’s first privately funded active travel bridge opens
AUSTRALIA – Four major developers came together on Sunday 22 May to officially open Sydney’s first privately funded active travel bridge. The Bennelong Bridge stretches across part of Botany Bay to connect the two new high-density urban centres of Rhodes and Wentworth Point. It has been designed to only carry public transport buses, cyclists and pedestrians, with provision for emergency services to also use it if required.

Food Systems

Antibiotics could increase greenhouse gas emissions from livestock
Antibiotic use in livestock could increase greenhouse emissions, new research suggests. The study, published today in the Royal Society’s Proceedings B, found that dung from cattle fed tetracycline produced more methane than dung from animals not fed the antibiotic.

UN expert calls for tax on meat production
Governments should tax meat production in order to stem the global rise in consumption and the environmental damage that goes with it, according to a UN expert. The world faces serious environmental problems if emerging economies such as China emulate Americans and Europeans in the amount of meat they eat, Prof Maarten Hajer, the lead author of a report into the impact of food production and the environment, told the UN environment assembly in Nairobi.

Dairy farmers are being ‘milked dry’, but let’s remember the real cost of milk
The Australian dairy farming industry is in a state of crisis. Cheap dairy products and fluctuations in both the domestic and global markets have taken a financial toll on farmers. Consumers have rallied to help struggling dairy producers. But this is only half the problem. The true cost of dairy is also paid by dairy cows and the environment.

A healthy diet is cheaper than junk food but a good diet is still too expensive for some
Many people believe eating healthily is expensive – and more costly than buying junk food. But our new research, published in the journal BMC Public Health, shows this isn’t the case. Most Australian households’ food budget is being spent on “discretionary” or “junk” foods and drinks that are high in saturated fat, added sugar, salt and/or alcohol. Eating a healthy diet, as recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines, would be cheaper.


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