Sustainable Development News

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

Why we need a ‘moon shot’ to catalogue the Earth’s biodiversity
It’s unlikely that presidential candidates will ever utter the word “biodiversity” while campaigning this year. Yet among emerging environmental challenges, none has fewer facts or more enduring threats than the large-scale loss of biodiversity. That’s why we need a visionary investment in fundamental exploration to create knowledge and options… Biodiversity belongs in our public discussion because we have so much to learn from the Earth’s species – both what it means to be human and the knowledge encapsulated in nature – as we plot our future in a time of great change.\

Energy and Climate Change

At Chernobyl and Fukushima, radioactivity has seriously harmed wildlife
The largest nuclear disaster in history occurred 30 years ago at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in what was then the Soviet Union. The meltdown, explosions and nuclear fire that burned for 10 days injected enormous quantities of radioactivity into the atmosphere and contaminated vast areas of Europe and Eurasia. The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that Chernobyl released 400 times more radioactivity into the atmosphere than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Radioactive cesium from Chernobyl can still be detected in some food products today. And in parts of central, eastern and northern Europe many animals, plants and mushrooms still contain so much radioactivity that they are unsafe for human consumption.
See also: Forget Fukushima: Chernobyl still holds record as worst nuclear accident for public health

Abandon hype in climate models
The scenarios modelled for the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report assume the large-scale deployment of technologies that achieve negative emissions that draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and permanently store it. But whether such proposed methods could be deployed at a material scale is unproven. It would be more prudent to exclude these techniques from mitigation scenarios used by the IPCC, unless and until we have sufficient evidence of their availability and viability to support their inclusion.

Paris climate deal: countries with about half of global emissions to join this year

The White House has said countries accounting for about half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions would join the Paris climate agreement this year, bringing the agreement “within striking distance” of entering into force. At least 34 countries representing 49% of greenhouse gas emissions formally joined the agreement, or committed to joining the agreement as early as possible this year at a high-profile signing ceremony at the United Nations last Friday.

The living grid: A new frontier in energy demand response
A trio of British businesses — giant retailer Sainsbury’s, water management organization United Utilities and manufacturer Aggregate Industries — are teaming up to demonstrate the power of intelligent demand response technology, a potential foundation for a more flexible electric grid. They’re the founding members of a new program called the Living Grid that was catalyzed by the U.K. non-profit Forum for the Future. The goal is to help the country’s National Grid balance peaks and troughs in electricity demand through software that automatically adjusts how much power its equipment uses based on overall demand.

Wind farms’ climate impact recorded for first time
In the first study of its kind, scientists have been able to measure the climatic effect of a wind farm on the local environment. The team said its experiment showed that there was a very slight warming at ground level and that it was localised to within a wind farm’s perimeter. Data suggested the operation of onshore wind farms did not have an adverse ecological effect, the group added. The findings have been published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Ten things NZ should be doing now to combat climate change
New Zealand can and must do more to fight climate change on the home front, say authors of a high-level report out today. In the second of two major papers published by the Royal Society of New Zealand, researchers have laid out a range of actions they say the country could start taking now. An initial report, issued last week, warned several degrees of temperature increase by the end of century would put the country further at risk of flooding, drought, storm surge and put even greater pressure on waterways and ecosystems.

Environment and Biodiversity

Rising carbon dioxide is greening the Earth – but it’s not all good news
Dried lake beds, failed crops, flattened trees: when we think of global warming we often think of the impacts of droughts and extreme weather. While there is truth in this image, a rather different picture is emerging. In a paper published in Nature Climate Change, we show that the Earth has been getting greener over the past 30 years. As much as half of all vegetated land is greener today, and remarkably, only 4% of land has become browner.

TNC’s plan to teach companies how copying nature cuts risk
Unless you pay attention to ecological science, you might not know that restoring a wetland is a better financial bet for protecting your coastal corporate property against storm surges than building a wall. Or maybe you wouldn’t know that reducing ozone and nitrogen dioxide emissions from heavy manufacturing areas can be achieved by planting a peri-urban forest in the vicinity. These are some nature-based solutions to climate change risks and pollution that nonprofit envrionmental advocacy group the Nature Conservancy (TNC) hopes businesses will explore following the launches of a new Center for Sustainability Science that aims to open the door to deeper collaboration with companies.

5 TED-Ed Lessons to watch on Earth Day
How do solar panels work? Can wildlife adapt to climate change? How many TED-Ed Lessons include animated Earths, anyway? Here are 5 TED-Ed Lessons (and 1 great TED-Ed video compilation of animated Planet Earths) to watch.

Catalyst: Eco-Dog (Video 8:18)
Helping to save a furry friend is all in a day’s work for this pooch. Meet Maya, Australia’s first koala scat detection dog who’s helping researchers on koala conservation projects. Her job? To sniff out Koala poo. Maya’s amazing speed and accuracy enables scientists to better survey koala habitats, health and population numbers.

Economy and Business

TTIP: Chevron lobbied for controversial legal right as ‘environmental deterrent’\
Chevron lobbied the EU to give foreign investors the legal right to challenge government decisions in a major US-EU trade deal because it would act as a deterrent against laws such as fracking bans, the Guardian can reveal.  Environmentalists have long-warned that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership’s (TTIP) investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) commercial courts risk a regulatory chill, with governments backing away from measures limiting fossil fuel extraction for fear of lawsuits. But this is the first time that a major oil firm has corroborated their fears.

AP: Americans Favor Low Prices Over American-Made Goods
Price remains one of the biggest draws for American consumers. Results from a recent Associated Press-GfK poll show that the vast majority of Americans say they prefer lower prices instead of paying a premium for items labeled “Made in the U.S.A.,” even if it means those cheaper items are made abroad. Furthermore, nearly three in four say they would like to buy goods manufactured in the United States, but believe those items are often too costly or difficult to find. This misalignment is similar to what we’ve seen with ethical fashion or products with an associated social or environmental benefit – what people ‘want’ does not align with their actual purchasing habits.

How Increasing Transparency Can Help Prevent Further Devastation in Indonesia
Through global supply chains, we are all connected to Indonesia’s fires and to the deforestation that led to them. Right now, few, if any, are being held accountable for last year’s fires, despite their massive costs, estimated by the Indonesian Government to be upwards of $30 billion. But what can we do? It’s easy to say we need to stop deforestation, but this is nearly impossible without adequate information.

Industry Giant GAR to Fully Trace Its Palm Oil Supply Chain to the Plantation by 2020
One of the world’s largest palm oil companies, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), has published a 4-year plan to trace its entire supply to the growers’ plantations. Earlier this year, GAR mapped its entire supply chain to 489 individual mills, and plans to build on that progress by achieving 100 percent traceability to plantation for all of the palm oil purchased and processed by the company by 2020.

Want to know if your fashion is ethical?
A Dunedin-based social enterprise is planning to bring ethical fashion rating app Good on You to New Zealand.  The project is a partnership between Sustainable Projects and Good On You Australia, a social enterprise run by Ethical Consumers Australia. Fittingly, it was launched with a PledgeMe crowdfunding campaign on Earth Day, 22 April.

Politics and Society

World heading for catastrophe over natural disasters, risk expert warns
The world’s failure to prepare for natural disasters will have “inconceivably bad” consequences as climate change fuels a huge increase in catastrophic droughts and floods and the humanitarian crises that follow, the UN’s head of disaster planning has warned. Last year, earthquakes, floods, heatwaves and landslides left 22,773 people dead, affected 98.6 million others and caused $66.5bn (£47bn) of economic damage (pdf). Yet the international community spends less than half of one per cent of the global aid budget on mitigating the risks posed by such hazards.

TripAdvisor under pressure to stop promoting ‘cruel’ wildlife tourist attractions
Jakarta: An international animal welfare organisation has launched a campaign calling on travel website TripAdvisor to stop promoting and selling tickets to wildlife tourist attractions that it says are cruel to animals. In February, World Animal Protection released a list of 10 of the world’s cruellest wildlife attractions, including riding elephants, taking tiger selfies, holding sea turtles, touring civet-poo coffee plantations, performing dolphins and dancing monkeys.

Labor would introduce carbon market, pledge deeper carbon cuts if elected
AUSTRALIA – A Shorten Labor government would slash carbon emissions by about 50 per cent more than the Turnbull-led Coalition by 2030, introduce a broad-based emissions trading scheme, and block states like NSW and Queensland from expanding land clearing. Signalling that the ALP is prepared to make climate change a central point of difference from the incumbents, leader Bill Shorten said “the consequences of refusing to take meaningful action on climate change will be devastating for Australia and our economy”.
See also: Labor unveils phased emissions trading scheme Michelle Grattan | The Conversation

New climate science centre doesn’t make up for CSIRO cuts: experts
AUSTRALIA – Hobart will be home to a new climate science research centre in plans announced by the CSIRO. The centre, which will focus on climate measurement and modelling, will be staffed by 40 climate scientists and guarantee research for ten years. In February 2016, CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall announced broad job cuts at the organisation. The latest announcement reduces the total job losses from 350 to 275.


Budj Bim heritage site to get $8m upgrade to help UNESCO bid
AUSTRALIA – A little-known Aboriginal heritage site in south-west Victoria has moved one step closer to UNESCO World Heritage listing with the Victorian Government announcing $8 million to improve visitor facilities. The Budj Bim lava flow landscape north of Portland is home to some of the oldest known examples of man-made aquaculture systems in the world, as well as evidence of numerous Aboriginal settlements. The Gunditjmara people built the complex system of weirs and eel traps 6,600 years ago, across 3,000 hectares of land, providing them with enough sustenance to settle in one place.

Built Environment

What It’s Like to Live in the World’s Most Polluted City
From the skies above to the ground below, Delhi is polluted. This Indian territory, which includes the capital city of New Delhi, is half the size of Rhode Island, and is home to twice the population of New York City. Beijing, China, often makes headlines for its polluted air, but a global study of air pollution in 2014 by the World Health Organization found that Delhi’s air contained several times more fine particulate pollution than Beijing’s. By most measurements, it’s the most polluted area in the world. To get a glimpse of what it’s like to live in these conditions, photographer Matthieu Paley spent five days walking across Delhi.

In a dump in Bhalswa, Delhi, that seems to stretch for miles, a young girl searches for plastic. Photograph by Matthieu Paley, National Geographic

In a dump in Bhalswa, Delhi, that seems to stretch for miles, a young girl searches for plastic. Photograph by Matthieu Paley, National Geographic

How Can We Reduce Concrete’s Hefty Carbon Footprint?
A roomful of materials scientists, gathered at UCLA for a recent conference on “grand challenges in construction materials,” slowly passed a brick-size white block around the room. They held in their hands, briefly, part of the solution to one of those grand challenges. The white block, rock solid and surprisingly lightweight, was a new alternative to cement, the glue that holds together aggregate, or crushed rock, to make the world’s most ubiquitous building material: concrete.

Rapid chargers arrive at Silverdale
NEW ZEALAND – The opening of two rapid charging points outside Kings Plant Barn in Silverdale is confirming the north as the first viable electric vehicles (EVs) region in the country. This adds to the rapid charging network already installed in Northland by NorthPower with 12 sites including the first in the country in Whangarei in May 2014. Others are now installed at Kaiwaka, Dargaville, Tikipunga and Kawakawa with others planned. Vector has installed six rapid charging points in Auckland so far and has plans for 15 more before the end of the year along with slow chargers.


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