Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Business moves on climate as the Paris Agreement gets closer to sealing the deal
Outside of national action, businesses are shaping up to be leaders on climate. Alongside the UN General Assembly this week, representatives from national governments and businesses met in New York for the first post-Paris Climate Week. Among an elite line-up of corporate heavyweights, including Bank of America, Philips, Apple and Siemens, all have made carbon-neutral commitments by 2020 or 2030. This means they will offset emissions that they can’t reduce. There has been a convergence of political, technological and environmental understanding: a low-carbon economy is no longer a trade-off or threat. It’s an opportunity. And it is happening now.

Energy and Climate Change

BP in the Bight: why the planned oil spill response is too slow to protect the coast
Australia’s offshore petroleum industry regulator is set to rule next week whether to grant oil giant BP’s application to drill in the Great Australian Bight. But BP’s environmental plan, released last week, suggests that the company’s proposed plan for dealing with a blowout displays less urgency than would be expected in some other parts of the world.

Existing coal, oil and gas fields will blow carbon budget – study
The world’s working coal mines and oil and gas fields contain enough carbon to push the world beyond the threshold for catastrophic climate change, according to a report released on Thursday. If all the existing fuel were to be burned, projects currently operating or under construction could be expected to release 942Gt CO2, said the report by US-based thinktank Oil Change International (OCI). This exceeds the carbon limits that would most likely warm the world 1.5C and even over 2C above the pre-industrial average. These were limits agreed at last year’s climate conference in Paris.

Solar can power African homes for $56 per year, says IRENA
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has today published a report outlining how tumbling solar costs are making PV one of the cheapest means for powering many parts of Africa. The report, titled Solar PV in Africa: Costs and Markets, finds that solar home systems now meet the annual electricity needs for off-grid households in Africa for just $56 per year – which is already below the cost of traditional off-grid power sources such as diesel and kerosene, and prices are continuing to fall.

Dutch parliament votes to close down country’s coal industry
The Dutch parliament has voted for a 55% cut in CO2 emissions by 2030, which would require the closure of all the country’s coal-fired power plants. The unexpected vote on Thursday night by 77 to 72 would bring the Netherlands clearly into line with the Paris climate agreement, with some of the most ambitious climate policies in Europe.

Incumbents erect another barrier to solar, storage and shared energy
AUSTRALIA – Last month, Andrew Vesey, the chief executive of AGL Energy, made a frank admission. Regulation in the energy industry, he said, were not designed to protect consumers. They were put in place to protect investors… Consumer groups this week have again cried foul over yet another ruling by the main policy maker in Australia’s energy markets, describing it as yet another roadblock to a transition to a clean affordable grid, and the shift to locally generated solar, battery storage and shared energy.

Closing Victoria’s Hazelwood power station is no threat to electricity supply
Over the weekend Fairfax media reported that the Hazelwood power station in the Latrobe valley could close as early as next April. Senior management at Engie, the French company which is the majority owner of the brown coal-fired power plant, has emphasised that no decision has been made yet.
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Big W.A. blackout can’t be blamed on renewables, doesn’t make headlines
AUSTRALIA – A large gas generator hailed by its owners as one of the most modern and efficient in Australia failed on Thursday afternoon, cutting power to more than 130,000 customers in Western Australia, some for nearly an hour. The blackout affected more people, and for a longer period, than another major outage in South Australia last November that caused many headlines, including in the Murdoch media (echoed on the local ABC) that wind and solar were not reliable and were damaging the local economy.

Environment and Biodiversity

Baby lobsters in hot water as ocean temperatures rise
The scientists found that lobster larvae struggled to survive when they were reared in water five degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the temperatures that are currently typical of the western Gulf of Maine, a key lobster fishing area off of New England. Five degrees is how much the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expects the Gulf of Maine’s temperature to warm by the year 2100.

New report confirms grim outlook for elephants
Elephant populations in Africa have declined by around 111,000 over the past 10 years according to a new study.  The African Elephant Status report says that poaching is the main driver of the fall, the worst losses in 25 years. However the authors say that long-term issues such as the loss of habitat also pose a significant threat.  The report has been presented at the Cites meeting which is considering new proposals on elephant protection.

The grey parrot and the race against Africa’s wildlife extinction
Perry, a five-year-old African grey parrot, is for sale on a well-known pet trade website for £750. She looks in good condition with her large black bill, red tail and white mask and her owner says she can whistle the tune of Flower of Scotland, does a passable imitation of R2D2 and is “very clever and funny”. What Perry’s Scottish owner does not tell prospective buyers is that the African grey is close to extinction in the wild largely because of the international pet trade.

Wellington shoots to become first predator free capital
NEW ZEALAND – An ambitious plan to make Wellington the world’s first predator-free capital is expected to be unveiled today. It’s believed the project will aim to rid the capital of the top three invasive predators – rats, stoats and mustelids – starting with Miramar. “The idea is to create what is effectively a predator-free Wellington region,” said Greater Wellington regional council (GWRC) chairman Chris Laidlaw.

Rare limestone bluffs to be added to national park
NEW ZEALAND – Over 150 hectares of forested land near Inangahua on the West Coast is set to become part of Paparoa National Park. The area, to the east of the Paparoa Range in the Buller District, includes limestone cliffs that are regarded as very rare. Associate Conservation Minister Nicky Wagner said the lowland podocarp and beech forest was also rare, as much of the region had been cleared for agriculture.

Economy and Business

The internet helps us translate ‘social capital’ to economic benefits
Keeping up with our social networks online helps us get what we want in the short term, but could be worse for our accumulation of “social capital” in the longer term, our research shows. One explanation for this is that the benefits from increased online social connectivity are outweighed by the loss of face-to-face social interactions.

Fashion victims: the true cost of H&M clothing
NEW ZEALAND – Clothing giant H&M is facing accusations of child labour and factory conditions that are unsafe for workers. The Swedish fashion retailer is preparing to open a store in Auckland on Saturday. Amid the publicity surrounding the opening, the Washington-based Workers Rights Constortium said hundreds of thousands of workers making H&M garments in factories in Bangladesh were doing so in dangerous conditions.

Waste and the Circular Economy

UK’s first food waste supermarket
The first food waste supermarket in the UK has opened next to Leeds, in Pudsey. The project has been brought to life by Real Junk Food Project campaigners, who have opened the store – “the warehouse” – on the Grangefield Industrial Estate. The food offered by the shop comes from leftovers from supermarkets and other businesses, and customers pay what they want for it – according to the “pay as you feel” principle.

The world’s threatened rivers – in pictures
From Bangalore’s water riots to Russia’s “river of blood”, rivers are under threat from many sources including industry, agriculture and climate change

Citarum River - Indonesia

Citarum River – Indonesia
The effects of domestic and industrial waste from factories along Indonesia’s Citarum River prompted environmental groups Green Cross of Switzerland and the Blacksmith Institute to name it as one of the world’s 10 most polluted places. More than 35 million people depend on the river for their lives and livelihoods. The hundreds of textile factories along its banks have leached lead, mercury and other chemicals into its waters. In the last few decades more than 60% of fish species living in the river have been wiped out.
Photograph: Ed Wray/Getty Images

Politics and Society

The price of connection: ‘surveillance capitalism’
Over the past 30 years, shifts in our communication infrastructures have enabled large-scale attempts to reshape the very possibilities of social order in the interests of market functioning and commercial exploitation. Some see this as a new “surveillance capitalism”. This is focused on data extraction rather than the production of new goods, thus generating intense concentrations of power over extraction and threatening core values such as freedom.

The science is in: gardening is good for you
“That’s all very well put,” says Candide, in the final line of Voltaire’s novel of the same name, “but we must go and work our garden.” I studied this text at high school before I became a gardener and professional horticulturist. We were taught that Candide’s gardening imperative was metaphorical not literal; a command for finding an authentic vocation, not a call to take up trowels and secateurs. In fact, Voltaire himself really believed that active gardening was a great way to stay sane, healthy and free from stress. That was 300 years ago. As it turns out, the science suggests he was right.

Screen use affecting children’s eyes – optometrists
NEW ZEALAND – Children as young as five are among a growing number of people visiting optometrists with eye problems from excessive screen use. A national survey of almost 50 optometrists by lense company Essilor found nine out of ten were concerned about the number of people coming to them with symptoms of dry eyes, eye strains and headaches caused by screens.

Group of four row 87km in 11 hours to help save Maui and Hector’s dolphins
NEW ZEALAND – It started as an outlandish idea over a beer. It ended up being a 90-kilometre, 11-hour slog in a row boat. Four hardy, very tired, rowers and their two sweeps reached North Beach in Christchurch at 2.45 on Saturday afternoon. They had left Akaroa Harbour, 87km away around Banks Peninsula, at 4am. Their mammoth effort raised $9000 to protect New Zealand’s endangered Maui and Hector’s dolphins.

Where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump stand on climate change
On November 8, Americans will have the chance to go to the polls and elect the next president of the United States. Both major parties, Republican and Democrat, will make their cases to voters in the coming weeks. The candidates’ positions on environmental issues are very different.

Built Environment

Here’s what cities can do to catalyze sustainable development
Last year, all 193 countries represented at the United Nations formally agreed to a set of Sustainable Development Goals… A recent report from United Cities and Local Governments breaks down, goal-by-goal, where the SDGs intersect with the work of local governments. A big focus is on the targets that exist for each of the 17 goals — there are 169 targets in all. According to UCLG, 90 of these targets, or just over half of them, are relevant to local governments.

Food Systems

Greener pastures: the dairy farmers committed to sustainability
AUSTRALIA – It was a soil bacteria course in New Zealand that convinced Reggie Davis to change his farming methods. The fourth-generation Victorian dairy farmer had become increasingly concerned by the costs, chemicals and time involved in the use of nitrate fertilisers to maintain – what was considered to be – high-quality pasture for his dairy herd.

Poor food ‘risks health of half the world’
Poor diets are undermining the health of one in three of the world’s people, an independent panel of food and agriculture experts has warned. The report says under-nourishment is stunting the growth of nearly a quarter of children under five. And by 2030 a third of the population could be overweight or obese.  The report by the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition is being presented to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation.


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