Sustainable Development News

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

Jerry Brown interview: The long struggle for the environment
It can seem that Jerry Brown has always been governor of California. First elected in 1974, he served two eventful terms — securing rights for farmworkers, balancing the state budget, navigating a tax revolt and the Medfly – before unsuccessfully running for the Senate in 1982. He left politics for a time, traveled and worked with Mother Teresa, learned Spanish and then returned. He served as mayor of Oakland for two terms, was elected attorney general and then, an astonishing 28 years after leaving the governorship, he regained it. He is now the longest-serving governor in the state’s history, one of the youngest men ever to hold the office and the oldest too.

Energy and Climate Change

ICT solutions can reduce EU carbon emissions by 1.5Gt, says BT
Utilising and enhancing smart manufacturing, smart buildings and smart energy could reduce the European Union’s (EU) carbon footprint by more than 1.5Gt by 2030, a new report from communications giant BT has found.

El Niño is over, but has left its mark across the world
The 2015-16 El Niño has likely reached its end. Tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures, trade winds, cloud and pressure patterns have all dropped back to near normal, although clearly the event’s impacts around the globe are still being felt.

Off-Grid Lighting Boom In Africa & South Asia Saved $3.4 Billion For Poor Households
According to the Global Off-Grid Lighting Association (GOGLA), poor households in Asia and Africa saved some $3.4 billion based on the rapid uptake of solar lighting. GOGLA has released its Social Impact Report, which addresses a significant increase in solar lighting products in off-grid locales. The impact of having such lighting solutions available is viewed as “more than doubling households’ available ‘light’ time for work, study or socializing.” Specifically, this means off-grid lighting products impact approximately 71.6 million people, who previously depended on kerosene lamps and battery-operated torches.

French government signals end of Victoria’s Hazelwood coal plant
AUSTRALIA – The French government has thrown fresh doubt over the future of the Hazelwood brown coal power station, signalling the owner will close or sell the greenhouse-intensive Victorian plant as part of an “exit plan” from coal.

ACT reports 15 bids, “impressive prices” for latest 200MW wind + solar auction
AUSTRALIA – The ACT government says it has received 15 proposal totalling more than 1GW of wind and solar capacity for its latest auction of 200MW of renewable energy capacity – one of the final pieces to be put in place to help the territory reach 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020. Environment minister Simon Corbell says (tweeted) that the bids include some “impressive prices”, which is probably not surprising given the number of projects looking for contracts, and their inability to strike power purchase agreements with the major retailers and other potential off-takers.

Local renewable energy projects being stifled by red tape, consumer advocates say
AUSTRALIA – Red tape and a lack of technical expertise are preventing community groups from setting up renewable energy projects, according to consumer advocates who have launched a new campaign to make it an election issue. The campaign is led by the Community Power Agency (CPA) and a coalition of grassroots energy groups. There are more than 70 community energy groups around the nation running 31 renewable energy projects including community solar and wind farms.

Without extra money, the Coalition’s low-emissions roadmap is a trip to nowhere
AUSTRALIA – On Friday, the Coalition made a low-key announcement of its new Low Emissions Technology Roadmap. To be developed by the CSIRO, it will aim to “highlight areas of growth in Australia’s clean technology sector”. Unveiled jointly by the industry and science minister, Christopher Pyne, the environment minister, Greg Hunt, and the energy minister, Josh Frydenberg, the plan asks the CSIRO to identify the most promising ways to reduce emissions and to come up with plans to accelerate the development and commercialisation of Australian technologies such as solar panel components.

Budget 2016: Subsidy for polluters axed
NEW ZEALAND – A controversial subsidy in the Emissions Trading Scheme, which allows some businesses to pay one emissions unit for every two tonnes of pollution they emit, is to be scrapped. The so-called “one-for-two” subsidy was a temporary measure introduced during the global financial crisis to help moderate the initial costs of the ETS — New Zealand’s main climate mitigation tool — while businesses were struggling.

Environment and Biodiversity

Europe’s Clampdown On Illegal Logging Shows Signs Of Progress, Studies Show
An independent evaluation concludes that Europe’s action plan to clamp down on the trade of illegally sourced wood products is working, though the plan requires some adjusting to face new types of challenges. This news comes on the heels of Indonesia’s announcement that it will be the first nation to issue timber products licensed under that action plan.

Forests to cover 25% of China in “eco-civilization” project
Nearly one quarter of China will be covered in forest by 2020 if the country implements its “eco-civilization” project, according to a new UN report. UNEP has released a series of reports at the Assembly that look at how countries can implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the first universally binding climate change agreement signed in December in Paris.

Riverland’s Pike Floodplain projects to breathe life into environment
Further works to restore floodplains and wetlands often described as the “kidneys of the Murray”, have begun in South Australia’s Riverland. Margaret Dowling Creek runs through the heart of the Birt Dix Memorial Park in the town of Paringa and is one of the main inlets to the Pike Floodplain. The Pike Floodplain covers 6,700 hectares of the Riverland near Renmark and plays a key role in the regulation of the river’s health and water quality.

More ‘underwater forests’ to be restored off Sydney’s iconic beaches
A program to reintroduce crayweed forests to waters off Sydney’s most famous beaches will now cover 16 locations, as part of a plan to rejuvenate the underwater eco-systems there. The aim of the project is to restore the variety of seaweed that once populated a 70-kilometre stretch of Sydney’s coastline before being destroyed by water pollution in the 1970s and 80s.

Former Linc Energy head ordered to clean up site of controversial gas project
AUSTRALIA – The Queensland Environment Department has issued an Environmental Protection Order (EPO) to the former chief executive of Linc Energy, Peter Bond, ordering him to clean up the site of the company’s controversial underground gas project near Chinchilla. Linc Energy, whose creditors this week voted to liquidate the company, has already been committed to stand trial on five charges of unlawfully and wilfully causing serious environmental harm at and around its underground coal gasification plant. It is believed to be the biggest environmental prosecution in Queensland’s history.

Thailand closes ten popular dive sites in bid to slow down coral bleaching crisis
Thailand has shut down ten popular diving sites in a bid to slow a coral bleaching crisis, a rare move that shuns tourism profits in order to protect the environment. The tropical country’s southern coastline and string of islands are home to some of the world’s most prized white sand beaches and scuba sites, and the booming tourism industry props up Thailand’s lagging economy. But warming waters and ever-growing swarms of visitors have damaged coral reefs and local ecosystems.

The number one thing we can do to protect Earth’s oceans
Marine governance favors consumption and commerce over conservation. Here’s what we can do about it.

Sharks have personalities – just like us
Not all sharks share the sinister aggression of the great white that terrorised beachgoers in the 1970s classic Jaws. According to Australian research, there are shy sharks, risk-taking sharks and even highly strung sharks that don’t handle stress particularly well. In short, sharks have distinct, individual personalities. Just like humans.

World’s largest sea sponge found in Hawaii waters
Scientists say the discovery of the world’s largest known sea sponge in deep waters off Hawaii happened by accident. The ancient giant, which has its own ecosystem, was discovered by a United States National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration research project exploring waters in the Pacific Ocean. The unusually shaped sponge is more than 2 metres wide and over 3.5 metres long, comparable in size to a minivan.

Economy and Business

Peruvian gov’t affirms illegal plantation activity in Amazon rainforest
Yesterday, Peru’s forest authority issued a public statement confirming illegal actions on the part of United Cacao and called on the London Stock Exchange to hold the company accountable for its alleged violations. The statement is the latest in a series of escalating exchanges between United Cacao and its critics. United Cacao is a Cayman Islands-based, UK-listed agroindustry company with roots in Southeast Asia and holdings in Peru. Managed by subsidiary companies, its Peruvian palm oil and cacao plantations have attracted significant criticism from conservation and human rights organizations, which say they have displaced indigenous territory and primary forest.

Exxon shareholders take ‘small step forward’ on climate
Exxon Mobil shareholders have rejected most proposals to increase reporting on climate change.  But they accepted a resolution that could see a climate activist elected to the board in the future. Despite opposition from the board, just over 60% of investors backed the motion that would allow small shareholders to nominate anyone to join the board. Exxon said it would re-evaluate its policies. It was the first shareholder decision accepted by Exxon in 10 years.
See also: ExxonMobil CEO: ending oil production ‘not acceptable for humanity’

Norway commits to zero deforestation
Norway is a leader in funding forest conservation around the world, and has also taken a stand for the human rights of forest communities. But now the country has announced that it will walk the walk itself. In what’s being hailed as a groundbreaking move, the Norwegian parliament pledged today that the government’s public procurement policy will be going deforestation-free.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Companies and cities unite to develop new circular plastics economy
An initiative backed by 40 leading companies and a number of global cities to design a circular plastics sector has been launched. New Plastics Economy is organised by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation and involves companies such as Amcor, Coca-Cola, DuPont, Indorama Ventures, L’Oreal, Mars, M&S, Suez, Unilever and Veolia. It builds on the recommendations of the report The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics that was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January.
See also: How to re-think plastics – interview with Chris Grantham, IDEO

This is not your parents’ conversation about carbon capture
Energy projects that employ carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems have struggled to gain wide-scale adoption over the past decade, despite receiving billions of dollars in subsidies from governments around the world.  That said, a new generation of carbon capture projects has begun to emerge, offering hope that this technology can live up to its promise as a cost-effective tool in the fight against climate change. Here are three ways that this new generation of projects is changing the conversation on CCS.

Top Chefs Urge Congress to Address Nation’s $200B Food Waste Problem
Award-winning chefs from across the country, including ‘Top Chef’ head judge Tom Colicchio, gathered in Washington, D.C. on May 25 to advocate for food waste reduction in the American food system. In hopes of educating lawmakers on the severity of the issue, the group met with 22 Senate and House offices in tandem with a first-of-its-kind House Agriculture Full Committee hearing assessing food waste from farm to table.

Politics and Society

French minister warns of mass climate change migration if world doesn’t act
Global warming will create hundreds of millions of climate change migrants by the end of the century if governments do not act, France’s environment minister has warned. Ségolène Royal told ministers from 170 countries at the UN environment assembly in Nairobi that climate change was linked to conflicts, which in turned caused migration. “Climate change issues lead to conflict, and when we analyse wars and conflicts that have taken place over the last few years we see some are linked to an extent to climate change, drought is linked to food security crises,” she said.

With Brazil in political crisis, science and the environment are on the chopping block
In the midst of Brazil’s political turmoil, pro-development forces are moving ahead on a constitutional amendment that could speed approval for dams, highways, mines, and other megaprojects. The measure has alarmed scientists, environmentalists, and indigenous rights advocates, who fear it would gut the country’s environmental licensing process. It is just one of a series of actions that has the scientific community on edge after Dilma Rousseff was removed as president on 12 May. Rousseff faces an impeachment trial for illegally borrowing money from state banks to cover budget deficits.

CSIRO cuts: as redundancies are announced, the real cost is revealed
The unfortunate manner in which the latest phase of restructuring of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has played out has raised questions about Australia’s scientific capability and our ability to meet international responsibilities.

Is NZ facing a crisis of conscience?
The housing crisis has taken on a more visible form, with the issues of emergency housing and homelessness. The causes of homelessness and need for emergency housing are complex, but the common thread is poverty. And no place to turn. At the end of the tether, society decides whether to simply let it happen, or to care and act. New Zealand has long taken a caring approach. A safety net has been a part of the social contract in post-war New Zealand. But we seem to have become less caring.

Built Environment

Can Sadiq Khan stand up to bike bashers and make London a cycling city?
My regular bike commute to work comes in two very distinct parts, a split which epitomises the rapid changes to cycling in London. The beginning and the end – Walworth Road and Farringdon Road for those who know the city – are an experience familiar to cyclists in the capital for many years: a slightly gung ho rush of mingling with the buses, cabs and construction trucks. But for one, blissful mile in the middle, this all changes. Those of us on two wheels are funnelled onto a brand new, billiard table-smooth bike lane, separated from the metal behemoths by a raised kerb, cosseted with our own mini traffic lights.

Government provides £21m funding to support green transport
The UK Government is providing £21m funding to councils across the nation through sustainable travel initiatives to boost local economies, promote healthier forms of transport and facilitate greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions.

Ikea and Nestle call for new EU laws to cut truck emissions
An alliance of companies including Ikea, Nestle and Heathrow airport have called on the EU to pass new laws cutting truck emissions within two years, to meet promises made at the Paris climate conference. Heavy duty vehicles make up less than 5% of Europe’s road traffic but chug out a quarter of the sector’s carbon emissions – more than airplanes – and their fuel efficiency has hardly changed in two decades.

Food Systems

How do you define sustainable agriculture?
Organic, locally grown food: Better for your family and for our hungry world — right? Heading to the farmer’s market in the warm spring sunshine, it’s easy to feel like you’re doing everyone on Earth a small favor. But like with so many things in life, it depends.

Why cows are the new palm oil for retail supply chains
Many retailers are at risk of stocking products sourced from cattle raised on recently deforested tropical forest lands. However, some retailers have relatively greater exposure to this problem — as well as greater power to address it.


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