Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Wind, solar, coal and gas to reach similar costs by 2030: report
By 2030 renewable energy sources such as solar and wind will cost a similar amount to fossils fuels such as coal and gas, thanks to falling technology costs, according to new forecasts released in the CO2CRC’s Australian Power Generation Technology (APGT) Report. The report also shows that technology costs will fall faster under climate policies that limit the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million. (The current CO₂ concentration is around 400 parts per million). While the practice of forecasting is often derided, with multi-billion dollar assets that can last 50 years or more, the electricity industry and the policy-makers, academics and stakeholders who study it have no choice but to get involved.

Energy and Climate Change

Nuclear priced out of Australia’s future energy equation in new report
Australia’s official economic forecaster has finally admitted that the cost of nuclear energy is more than double other clean energy alternatives, suggesting it would likely play no role in a decarbonised grid based around lowest costs. The Australian Power Generation Technology Report – a 362-page collaborative effort from more than 40 organisations, including the CSIRO, ARENA, the federal government’s Department of Industry and Science and the Office of the Chief Economist – clearly shows that solar and wind will be the cheapest low carbon technologies in Australia.

Sunshine state aims to become Australia’s solar state
AUSTRALIA – The state of Queensland appears ready to embark on what could be one of the most radical transformations of its electricity network ever undertaken – even by standards of ambitious mandates in places such as California, Germany and Denmark. The newly elected state Labor government came into power with a policy for 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. That may have sounded radical at the time, but in the context of the upcoming climate talks in Paris, and the pledges being made at a global, national and sub-national level, it now seems less so.

South Australia is going for net zero
The South Australian Government has committed to net zero emissions by 2050, following a report from the Low Carbon Economy Expert Panel, which also recommended taking nuclear energy off the table, more stringent building standards, mandating solar panels on all new homes and requiring all major projects to be carbon-neutral. The South Australian government acted swiftly to endorse the zero emissions goal, announcing the formal adoption of a net zero emissions by 2050 target.

Three common mistakes when assessing going off grid
Every consultant and commentator now has a view on solar and storage. The ATA solar and storage will be economic by 2020, Tristian Edis is downplaying going off grid, and you get the feeling Giles Parkinson sees market
disruption imminent (we tend to be in the same camp as Giles). Here are the three common mistakes we see when assessing the potential of solar and storage. Read them, critique them, but please, don’t make them.

Solar energy: Living off the grid (Video 2:38)
NEW ZEALAND – Big advances in battery technology for solar power mean Kiwis will soon have the opportunity to leave the electricity grid.

Paris 2015: UN Conference on Climate Change

Paris climate summit primer: what are greenhouse gases?
Among the many things that are changing the Earth’s climate, an increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) can be singled out as the primary culprit. The issue of how to reduce them will of course be at the heart of the discussions at the upcoming COP21 in Paris, the aim of which is to keep global warming below 2°C.

Paris climate summit: the climate circus comes to town (Long Read)
The soap opera of global climate talks has been playing for 20 years. As it comes to Paris on Monday, Suzanne Goldenberg reviews the tears, the bloodshed and the unspeakable catering.

Pope Francis says failure of climate summit would be catastrophic
World leaders must reach a historic agreement to fight climate change and poverty at coming talks in Paris, facing the stark choice to either “improve or destroy the environment”, Pope Francis said in Africa on Thursday. Francis chose his first visit to the world’s poorest continent to issue a clarion call for the success of the two-week summit, known as COP21, that starts on Monday in the French capital still reeling from attacks that killed 130 people and were claimed by Islamic State.

Business Asks COP21 Negotiators for Specific Text in Paris Agreement to Ensure Ambition
With less than one week until the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, the We Mean Business coalition has released a brief outlining specific language business leaders would like to see in the final diplomatic agreement in order to spur ambitious action from the private sector to advance a low-carbon economy.

Climate haka this Saturday to go global
NEW ZEALAND – The video footage of thousands of people performing the ‘Ka Mate’ haka on Queen Street this Saturday is to be beamed around the world. It’s the People’s Climate March, and the People’s Climate Haka, and it’s a challenge to world leaders to come to a binding agreement on lowering greenhouse gas emissions to stop global warming, and an inspiration for people to get out and march around the planet.

Environment and Biodiversity

The Mekong river: stories from the heart of the climate crisis
The fate of 70 million people rests on what happens to the Mekong river. With world leaders meeting in Paris next week for crucial UN climate talks, John Vidal journeys down south-east Asia’s vast waterway – a place that encapsulates some of the dilemmas they must solve. He meets people struggling to deal with the impacts of climate change as well as the ecological havoc created by giant dams, deforestation, coastal erosion and fast-growing cities

South African judge lifts domestic ban on rhino horn trade
A South African judge on Thursday lifted a domestic ban on trade in rhino horns, in a direct challenge to government policy put in place in 2009 to try to stem rocketing poaching numbers. The government said it planned to appeal against the ruling, which was delivered in the Pretoria high court after two South African game breeders fought a legal battle to overturn the moratorium.

Waikanae stream wins award for ‘most improved river’
NEW ZEALAND – Stinky sewage used to run through Waikanae’s Ngarara Stream. Now it is the country’s “most improved river”. In 2002, when the stream was one of the most polluted in the region, the Waikanae community, landowners and the council decided enough was enough. One of the stream’s major problems was that the Waikanae sewage treatment ponds would overflow into it, particularly after a storm.

The critically endangered Eastern Barred Bandicoot is one of more than 300 native species threatened by rabbits.

The critically endangered Eastern Barred Bandicoot is one of more than 300 native species threatened by rabbits.

Marine scientists planning for ‘one of the worst’ coral bleaching events
Scientists across Australia are preparing for what could be the most damaging coral bleaching event in history. It is feared rising sea temperatures, and this year’s strong El Nino, could combine to damage delicate reef systems on both sides of the continent.

Rabbit control plan plays the long game to contain devastating pest, protect threatened native species
AUSTRALIA – The latest national rabbit management plan says a long-term and strategic commitment to new biocontrols is needed to protect landscapes, farm productivity and threatened native species from the devastating pest. Rabbit numbers have increased as resistance to the rabbit calicivirus disease grows.

Economy and Business

TTIP talks: EU alleged to have given ExxonMobil access to confidential papers
The EU appears to have given the US oil company ExxonMobil access to confidential negotiating strategies considered too sensitive to be released to the European public during its negotiations with the US on the trade agreement TTIP, documents reveal.

Add Transparency to Boost Your Bottom Line
Transparency is a new playing field that many companies will find themselves on, whether or not they want to be there. Rather than resist and risk failure, companies and the customers they serve will benefit by embracing transparency today. In fact, as more consumers demand proof that the products they buy fulfill the promise of the label, transparency is becoming a key differentiator that sets successful companies apart.

Living Wage: Key to Maximizing Morale and Driving Financial Value
Conventional wisdom holds that businesses need to keep wages low to increase profits, but the world’s most innovative companies know that this wisdom is flawed. Transformational and innovative companies understand that their workforce is not a cost to be minimized but a strategic asset that can be leveraged to drive business value. These companies realize that their financial health depends on the health of the communities where they operate. Supporting vibrant, healthy and resilient communities enables them to build their future workforces and improve productivity, reducing production costs and increasing revenues and profits

Eight in 10 Chief Executives Want Carbon Pricing
A survey of 75 chief executives conducted by UN Global Compact and Accenture Strategy has found that more than 80% of corporate leaders want international leaders to provide a clear vision and timeline for the implementation of future carbon pricing measures at COP21 in Paris. Carbon pricing comes under a natural capital accounting bracket, where the full cost is integrated into the economic structure. The survey makes the point that organisations want clarity in terms of long-term investment opportunities and internal allocation in their business.

How balsa wood is providing sustainable opportunities in PNG
A Swinburne University PhD student has developed a new acoustic and thermal insulation wall panel with big triple-bottom-line sustainability benefits.  Fabricated from balsa wood grown by former cocoa farmers in Papua New Guinea, the panel created by Nathan Kotlarewski has been installed and tested at Vault Industrial Design Showroom in Melbourne. It solved an acoustic issue staff had been having in the space, due to it being long and “echo-y”, Mr Kotlarewski said. The acoustics had been so poor, even receiving phone calls was difficult.

Carbon dioxide causes wine grapes to ripen earlier and decreases flavour compounds
A study into the impact of climate change on wine grape production has found increased levels of carbon dioxide cause wine grapes to ripen earlier. The wine industry is investigating how climate change will impact grape production by exposing vines in north-west Victoria to the temperature and carbon dioxide levels predicted by 2050.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Friends of the Earth warns that circular economy package is likely to be less ambitious than promised
Analysis by Friends of the Earth Europe has said that the European Commission’s circular economy package isn’t like to be as ambitious as originally set out. Last year, European Commission First-Vice President Frans Timmermans withdrew the original package put forward by the previous Commission and promised to replace it with a more ambitious set of proposals. However, analysis of leaks of the proposals so far by the environmental organisation warns that the new package will not be sufficient to create a circular economy.

COP21: Drone to monitor rubbish dump gases
UK – An experimental drone fitted with sensors is being deployed to monitor gases rising from rubbish dumps.  The unmanned aircraft is being flown above Britain’s 200 landfill sites to study a major source of UK emissions. The latest estimate is that unwanted food produces 21 million tonnes of greenhouse gas in the UK every year.

Everybody hates wasting food — so why do we do it, and how can we stop?
It was bound to happen. When I first got the assignment to write a story on reducing consumer food waste, I was feeling just a little smug. I’m the one who wraps up breadsticks at the restaurant to take home, slurps the last bit of soup from the bowl, cuts the soft spots out of an apple rather than tossing the whole thing away. But even though I personally don’t fritter food, plenty of people do — and this would be my big chance to help reduce the hefty social and environmental costs by exploring why and what we can do about it. Then I opened my refrigerator. Pulling out what I thought was a perfectly healthy stalk of celery, I found instead the early stages of compost. On the top shelf, a cottage cheese carton disguised leftovers I had diligently squirreled away — and promptly forgotten. And then there was the ketchup. “Best if used by March 2012?” Busted.

Politics and Society

Frozen wages, insecure jobs, struggling youth, rising inequality, shrinking unions … join the dots
If you’ve been following the news about the Australian economy, you could be forgiven for thinking the country is in dire straits. The latest ABS data paints a grim picture as wage growth in the private sector hits a decade low of 2.1%. More than 750,000 Australians are unemployed, with more stuck in insecure or casual work arrangements. We’re also donating A$128 billion-a-year worth of unpaid overtime. The picture grows darker still when we look to the next generation… Youth unemployment is just shy of 13% and a Committee for Economic Development Australia report warns that automation could replace 40% of all jobs by 2025.

Massive road and rail projects could be Africa’s greatest environmental challenge
Africa’s natural environments and spectacular wildlife are about to face their biggest challenge ever. In a paper published today in Current Biology, my colleagues and I assess the dramatic environmental changes that will be driven by an infrastructure-expansion scheme so sweeping in scope, it is dwarfing anything the Earth’s biggest continent has ever been forced to endure.

Sweden is challenging the world to go fossil fuel-free
The world can tackle climate change, but time is short. Sweden aims to be one of the world’s first fossil fuel-free welfare nations. With our initiative Fossil-free Sweden, we now challenge other countries to do likewise. Global warming threatens the very foundation of human wellbeing. Drought, flooding and a less predictable climate hit both agriculture and fisheries hard, thereby threatening access to food for the world’s growing population. Global economic growth is under threat, along with years of work to eradicate poverty.

Indonesia: fires threaten to send even modest climate ambitions up in smoke
At the Paris climate negotiations, Indonesia will bring to the table a target of an unconditional 29% emissions reduction by 2030, increasing to 41% on condition of international assistance. Indonesia’s emission reduction plan (or Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) is therefore slightly higher than its 2009 commitment to reduce emissions by 26% by 2020. There are three problems with Indonesia’s INDC. The target is not ambitious; the plan is incoherent; and with the recent massive forest fires in Indonesia that have yet to be accounted for in the INDC it does not accurately reflect emissions for Indonesia.

Climate of Hope: Q&A with Prof Alistair Woodward, Auckland University
If we ask ourselves, what are the really bad outcomes from climate change that we would want to avoid? Most people would put serious illness and injury high on the list. Yet it is true that climate change is seldom described as a health issue. I think this is because the most significant threats to human from climate change are indirect – through pathways such as population displacement, food shortages, and changing patterns of disease vectors.

Former Nasa scientist backs Kiwi woman’s climate change lawsuit against govt
NEW ZEALAND – A former Nasa heavyweight has thrown his support behind a Hamilton academic who is suing the government over its climate change responsibilities. Renowned climate scientist James Hansen who spent 32 years with Nasa, has signed an affidavit backing University of Waikato law student Sarah Thomson who has filed a lawsuit against the government in response to its emission-reduction target.

BHP Billiton denies UN claims Brazil dam disaster mud is ‘toxic’, damage size of 20,000 Olympic pools
The United Nations human rights agency has found mud from the Samarco tailings dam collapse in Brazil is toxic and the government and corporate responses to the disaster were “clearly insufficient”. The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said new evidence showed the dam wall collapse in the Minas Gerais province “released 50 million tonnes of iron ore waste, [which] contained high levels of toxic heavy metals and other toxic chemicals in the river Doce.”

Food Systems

Why seed banks aren’t the only answer to food security
On 10 September, Dr Mahmoud Solh, director general of the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (Icarda), sent an urgent request to the Svalbard global seed vault asking for the return of collections of seeds once held in Aleppo, Syria… These seeds are now being sown at research stations in Lebanon and Morocco in the hope that they will soon provide farmers and breeders in Syria, a country besieged by war, with new seeds and saplings.

Animal activists protest as Craddock Farms appeal begins
NEW ZEALAND – Plans for one of the largest caged chicken farms in the county was met by a protest of more than 60 animal activists and locals at the Environment Court in Auckland on Thursday morning.  Stefan Craddock, general manager of Craddock Farms, wanted to build a colony cage egg farm in Patumahoe, south of Auckland, which would house more than 300,000 hens. Auckland Council declined Craddock’s application to build the farm earlier this year due to possible odour issues. But the company appealed the decision and adjusted its plans by adding chimney stacks to its buildings to mitigate odour issues. The appeal hearingstarted on Thursday.


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