Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Monsanto’s new $1bn herbicide shows our bias towards hi-tech solutions
Every week brings news of the latest world-saving technological breakthrough, from electric cars to superfoods and energy miracles. Global agrochemical firm Monsanto just announced a $1bn investment in its new herbicide, dicamba, part of Roundup Ready Xtend, its system for genetically engineered crops such as soya beans and cotton. But, as we consider which paths to go down to solve the world’s food, energy, climate and health problems, are we spellbound by hi-tech answers over less glamorous, but potentially better, low-tech approaches?

Energy and Climate Change

Adani dissolves 50-strong project team from troubled $16.5bn Carmichael mine
Work on one of the world’s biggest coal projects has ground to a halt with the Indian coal giant Adani dissolving the project management team behind its controversial Carmichael mine in Queensland. Adani last week dismissed 50 staff involved in taking the mine, port and rail project to construction, including from a key potential investor, Posco, in a move that raised further questions about the future of the $16.5bn project.

Getting to 50 per cent – building Australia’s renewable future
AUSTRALIA – Opposition leader Bill Shorten knew he was on to a winner when he declared his backing of a 50 per cent target for renewable energy in Australia by 2030 – a policy he used to launch the national ALP conference days later in Melbourne on Friday… But many questions remain: is such a plan feasible, what’s the cost and what’s the best way to reach the goal?

50% renewable energy would put Australia in line with leading nations
AUSTRALIA – Opposition leader Bill Shorten told the Labor Party conference this morning that the party’s policy should be for 50% of electricity to come from renewables by 2030. This would bring Australia abreast with its international competitors such as California, with its recently announced target of 50% of electricity from renewables by 2030, and Germany, where the Energiewende (“energy transformation”) will see the country commit to 40-45% non-nuclear green power by 2020, and 55-60% by 2035.

Environment and Biodiversity

How Do Fireflies Glow? Mystery Solved After 60 Years
Think of the firefly abdomen like a black box of bioluminescence. For around 60 years, scientists have known what basic ingredients go into the box—things like oxygen, calcium, magnesium, and a naturally occurring chemical called luciferin.  And they’ve known what comes out of the box—photons, or light, in the form of the yellow, green, orange, and even blue flickers you see dancing across your backyard on summer nights. But until recently, the actual chemical reactions that produce the firefly’s light have been shrouded in mystery.

The big comeback: it’s time to declare victory for Australian humpback whale conservation
AUSTRALIA – When it comes to conservation, good news is pretty thin on the ground – and the ocean, for that matter. We have grown much more used to hearing about marine species that face extinction, decline or negative impacts than about those that are thriving. But if we are to avoid getting demoralised, conservation biology needs victories to celebrate. So here’s one: the remarkable recovery of humpback whales that breed in Australian waters. Our review of the available data, published today in Marine Policy, suggests that humpback whale populations in Australian waters have recovered to the extent that we should consider downlisting them from the official list of threatened species.

National Tree Day: A selection of some of Australia’s favourite trees
National Tree Day, which was held on Sunday, is Australia’s largest community tree-planting and nature care event. It is Australia’s version of Arbor Day, a holiday initiative celebrated around the world by people with respect for trees and their communities. Australia has recognised the event since 1996 and, under the auspices of Planet Ark, more than 3 million people have planted 21 million trees and plants. Trees evoke fond memories in many of us. We climb them, we take shelter beneath their branches, they provide a home to many of our native wildlife and play a vital role in the ecosystem. In honour of National Tree Day, we took to social media and asked our audience to share a picture of their favourite tree with us.

Pest and weed app helping develop control programs and influence government funding
AUSTRALIA – A Natural Resource Management group in western Queensland is using a mobile application that maps pests and weeds, to help develop control programs and influence government funding.  Desert Channels Queensland developed Fulcrum about 18 months ago, to have people enter information about a weed or a pest they find and log where and when they find it.

Orchid spotters map shifting blooms
A citizen science project to study when and where orchids bloom around the UK has already revealed 200 new flowering locations for particular species. Members of the public are submitting and identifying orchid photos, and also annotating historical specimens. Called Orchid Observers, the initiative aims to measure the effect of warming, and other environmental changes, on the distribution of 29 different orchids.

Introducing: NZ’s first kauri dieback sniffer dog
A former rescue dog has been trained as New Zealand’s only specialist kauri dieback sniffer dog. Three-year-old golden labrador Paddy was so emaciated when he was rescued from the home of an injured hoarder in Auckland, all his ribs could be counted. The dog was infested with fleas and was aggressive. Animal behaviourist Mark Vette feared the worst when he was brought to his clinic in Waimauku, northwest Auckland. But in a few months, the canine underwent a remarkable transformation. He has now been adopted by Auckland Council’s biosecurity team and will be used as a secret weapon in the battle against kauri dieback.

Kids learn how to help threatened kea at Natureland
NEW ZEALAND – “Hands up who’s seen a kea,” Tamsin Orr-Walker told a group of primary school pupils at Natureland in Nelson. Almost every little hand shot up. “Kea have got a real problem,” Orr-Walker, chair of the Kea Conservation Trust said, before asking the children about the threats to New Zealand’s endangered mountain parrot. “Possums,” one pupil said, followed by stoats, ferrets and feral cats. But the programme at Natureland zoo on Friday morning was designed to educate the “next generation” about how people can live in harmony with the curious birds.

No quick fix for water quality concerns in the Richmond River
The co-author of a report that raises renewed concerns about water quality in the Richmond River says there is no quick fix for the problem.  The catchment was awarded a grading of D-plus. That was the worst of the seven north coast waterways assessed so far. Associate Professor Darren Ryder said elevated levels of nitrogen and phosphorous were detected during 12 months of testing at 48 sites. “It means the river is in poor condition consistently across water quality and riparian zones and fish habitat,” he said. “All the things that people value in the river.”

Economy and Business

Green growth or steady state? Rival visions of a green economy
Sooner or later, humanity will have to accept the constraints of a finite world, writes Guy Shrubsole. But two rival economic visions offer conflicting paths to sustainability. In fact, it’s time to stop arguing and get on with it – going for green growth in the near term, while aiming for a deeper societal transformation… In what follows, I try to summarise the best arguments and counter-arguments put forward by the two sides. This is a vast and complicated subject, so I don’t pretend to be comprehensive, or conclusive. But as Rio approaches, I hope this can help kick off a deeper discussion about what remains the most fundamental faultline in environmentalism.

Investors could lose $4.2tn because of climate change, report warns
Private investors stand to lose $4.2tn (£2.7tn) on the value of their holdings from the impact of climate change by 2100 even if global warming is held at plus 2C, a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has warned. If firm action is not taken at the forthcoming climate change talks in Paris and the Earth’s temperature warms by a further 5C then investors are facing losses of almost $7tn at today’s prices, new research shows.  This is more than the total current market capitalisation of the London Stock Exchange with impacts on company holdings that will come not just through extreme weather damage but also through lower economic growth.

Aviva commits £2.5bn to green investments following climate risk report
Insurance giant Aviva has announced a target to invest £500m every year for five years in renewable energy and energy efficiency.  Today’s (24 July) announcement of £2.5bn worth of investment will give the insurance giant carbon savings of 100,000 for these investments. Aviva’s plans were announced in a speech by chief executive Mark Wilson at the launch of an Aviva-commissioned report by The Economist Intelligence Unit, which investigates the economic risks of climate change.

MadeRight Helping Apparel Designers Customize Sustainable Supply Chains
If you’re a small-scale designer or apparel brand, managing your supply chain efficiently and sustainably can be a challenge.  MadeRight, a startup that recently launched out of Y Combinator, wants to change that. MadeRight is helping designers simplify the textile manufacturing process through its consortium of ethical, global factories and its procedures to streamline product movement.

Waste and the Circular Economy

UK plastic bag use up for fifth year
The number of single-use plastic bags handed out by UK supermarkets has increased for the fifth year running to 8.5bn, figures show. The number is up by 200m on 2013 despite the average household already having 40 plastic bags stashed away, research from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs found.

Editorial: Attitude shift needed on plastic bags
Not only are plastic bags wonderfully convenient but they are free to most shoppers. It is little wonder, then, that New Zealanders use about 1.6 billion every year. But there is a substantial downside to the bags. Usually, they are not durable enough for more than one use, and disposing of them has consequences for the environment, not least when they litter waterways. The Government has heeded this danger through a new scheme to recycle plastic shopping bags, bread bags, frozen food bags and food wrap. This, it says, makes environmental sense and is cost-effective and practical.

Politics and Society

Loving emails show there’s more to trees than ecosystem services
The internet exploded recently with news that you can email trees in Melbourne. For the last two years, residents and visitors have sent thousands of emails to their favourite tree, particularly one much-loved golden elm. “I see you every morning, watch you change with the seasons. It makes me happy knowing you are there,” emailed one resident. At first glance, the idea of emailing a tree can seem a strange and wacky thing, but this email is one of thousands the City of Melbourne has received via its Urban Forest Visual which maps every public tree in the City.

National Geographic photographer brings story to NZ (+photos)
According to award-winning wildlife photographer Steve Winter, he didn’t choose big cats, they chose him. “I was working in Guatemala and a jaguar came to my door one night – scared me to death. I heard him walk up, scratch under the door and then sniff. I was like a babe in the woods. The next story I did was the first ever jaguar story for National Geographic. Certain things in life are meant to be.” Before that fateful encounter in 1991, Winter had been a globetrotting photojournalist. These days, he is recognised as one of the world’s top big cat photographers, and he’s coming to New Zealand early next month to talk about his amazing adventures in the wild with his stage presentation My Nine Lives.

National Geographic Presents: My Nine Lives with Steve Winter in Auckland on August 5 and Wellington on August 6. To book call 0800 111 999 or see

The ‘mini ice age’ hoopla is a giant failure of science communication
This month there’s been a hoopla about a mini ice age, and unfortunately it tells us more about failures of science communication than the climate. Such failures can maintain the illusion of doubt and uncertainty, even when there’s a scientific consensus that the world is warming. The story starts benignly with a peer-reviewed paper and a presentation in early July by Professor Valentina Zharkova, from Northumbria University, at Britain’s National Astronomy Meeting.

Truthy untruths: behind the facade of the Intergenerational Report
The ostensible purpose of the 2015 Intergenerational Report is to ensure Australia’s future prosperity in the face of demographic ageing over the next 40 years. Its real purpose is different. The Coalition won the 2013 election as the party of economic management, a party that would balance the books after years of Labor profligacy, hence the 2014-15 budget cuts. The report uses the alleged ageing crisis to legitimate these budget cuts, as well as a high rate of immigration-fuelled population growth. Thus it focuses on the costs of ageing. But our new research shows it makes three claims which are overstated to the point of being deliberately misleading. This is important as the IGR is being used as a basis for far-reaching policy decisions.

Rudd reiterates Tory commitment to climate action
UK – After a week that has seen the Conservative Government cut renewable energy subsidies and close off key energy efficiency schemes, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has said “it cannot be left to one part of the political spectrum to dictate the solution” to climate change.  In her first major speech on climate change since the election, Rudd this morning (24 July) said that she understands why people see tackling global warming as “cover for anti-growth, anti-capitalist, proto-socialism.”.

Built Environment

Cities bid for £20m funding to develop ultra-low emission taxi services
Eight cities across the UK are to bid for a share in £20m investment in plug-in hybrid taxi services, the Department for Transport (DfT) has announced.  The shortlist of potential schemes will receive a government-backed feasibility study into providing greener transport opportunities in their area.

Food Systems

Graziers urged to consider holistic management to tackle drought
A Queensland holistic farm management educator says moving cattle more frequently could help pastures better survive droughts.  Jason Virtue is a certified trainer who teaches farmers to manage their cows in the landscape, rather than giving the herd the run of a property.  He said that in the long run both the cattle and the farm were better off.


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