Sustainable Development News

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

If the palm oil industry waited for consumers to care, sustainability would get nowhere
Palm oil is the most-used vegetable oil in the world, accounting for some 65% of all vegetable oil traded, and is found in everything from washing powder to breakfast cereals. Global production has doubled over the past decade and is set to double again by 2020. But oil palm trees only grow in tropical areas, and vast monocrops are rapidly destroying virgin rainforests and peatland. Ecosystem collapse, air pollution and species extinction have followed.

Energy and Climate Change

Why monster hurricanes like Patricia are expected on a warmer planet
First there was Supertyphoon Haiyan – which peaked out at 170-knot or 315 km/h mile-per-hour winds in 2013 as it slammed the Philippines. And now there is Patricia, forecast to soon hit Mexico, with currently estimated maximum sustained wind speeds of 175 knots or more than 324 km/h. It is officially the strongest hurricane ever measured by the U.S. National Hurricane Center, based on both its wind speed (175 knots) and its minimum central pressure (880 millibars). The wind measurement “makes Patricia the strongest hurricane on record in the National Hurricane Center’s area of responsibility (AOR) which includes the Atlantic and the eastern North Pacific basins,” the center said this morning.

Extreme heatwaves could push Gulf climate beyond human endurance, study shows
The Gulf in the Middle East, the heartland of the global oil industry, will suffer heatwaves beyond the limit of human survival if climate change is unchecked, according to a new scientific study.

Morocco poised to become a solar superpower with launch of desert mega-project
…The trading city, nicknamed the “door of the desert”, is the centre for another blockbuster – a complex of four linked solar mega-plants that, alongside hydro and wind, will help provide nearly half of Morocco’s electricity from renewables by 2020 with, it is hoped, some spare to export to Europe. The project is a key plank in Morocco’s ambitions to use its untapped deserts to become a global solar superpower.

Australian rooftop solar PV cheapest in world, says IEA report
The cost of installing solar PV systems on Australian households and businesses is among the cheapest in the world, according to the latest global PV report from the International Energy Agency, released on Monday.

Adelaide Airport to add more than 1MW solar PV
Adelaide Airport has announced it is installing a 1.17MW solar PV system on the roof of its short-term car park, bringing its total installed solar capacity to 1.28MW and cutting its energy consumption by close to 10 per cent. The system, to be installed by Solgen Energy, will be the largest on any Australian airport – a 1MW PV array was unveiled at Karratha airport in Western Australian in August – and will generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of more than 300 homes.

Solomon Islands to get 1MW solar PV plant, in NZ-UAE deal
The capital city of the South Pacific’s Solomon Islands is set to have a 1MW solar PV power plant, after a deal was signed between the United Arab Emirates and New Zealand to jointly fund the development. The project, which will be developed by UAE renewables company Masdar, will be funded 60/40 by UAE and NZ respectively, as part of the United Arab Emirates Pacific Partnership Fund – a $50 million fund established in 2013 to develop wind and solar projects across 11 Pacific island nations.

World set to use more energy for cooling than heating
The world faces a looming and potentially calamitous “cold crunch”, with demand for air conditioning and refrigeration growing so fast that it threatens to smash pledges and targets for global warming. Worldwide power consumption for air conditioning alone is forecast to surge 33-fold by 2100 as developing world incomes rise and urbanisation advances. Already, the US uses as much electricity to keep buildings cool as the whole of Africa uses on everything; China and India are fast catching up. By mid-century people will use more energy for cooling than heating.

Paris 2015: UN Conference on Climate Change

Catholic church calls on UN climate change conference to set goals
The Catholic church has called on UN negotiators convening in Paris at the end of November to agree a goal for “complete decarbonisation” by 2050, and set a legally binding agreement to limit global temperature increase. The statement, which was announced by the Vatican on Monday and signed by Catholic officials from five continents, represents a sweeping attempt to link climate change to social justice and the exclusion of poor people who stand to lose the most from global warming.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Australian Academy of Science divests from fossil fuel companies
Australia’s leading science institution has put its money where its mouth is on climate change and withdrawn its direct investments in fossil fuel companies. The decision will be outlined in a speech by Australian Academy of Science president Professor Andrew Holmes at a climate science conference in Hobart on Tuesday, in which he will also urge scientists to be “truth tellers” and fight against “scientific fallacy” in the public debate.

Environment and Biodiversity

We have 15 years to halt biodiversity loss, can it be done?
The UN’s ambitious new Sustainable Development Goals include a target to halt biodiversity loss by 2030. The SDGs have generated a great deal of comment, with questions raised as to whether the lofty aspirations can be turned into realistic policies. An article in The Lancet even dismissed the SDGs as nothing more than “fairy tales”. So is halting biodiversity loss a fairy tale?

Current management is not enough to halt pollution on the Great Barrier Reef
When the most recent report card for the Great Barrier Reef was released last year, it painted a depressing picture of the reef’s condition… Despite at least 15 years of concerted action by the Australian and Queensland governments, including a large investment (around A$500 million), the ecological health of the reef is not improving and in fact may be continuing to deteriorate.

Indonesia’s forest fires threaten a third of world’s wild orangutans
Raging Indonesian forest fires have advanced into dense forest on Borneo and now threaten one third of the world’s remaining wild orangutans, say conservationists. Satellite photography shows that around 100,000 fires have burned in Indonesia’s carbon-rich peatlands since July. But instead of being mostly confined to farmland and plantations, as they are in most years, several thousand fires have now penetrated deep into primary forests and national parks, the strongholds of the remaining wild apes and other endangered animals.

Save Kiwi Month: The ultimate kiwi savers
NEW ZEALAND – What’s it going to take to save our national icon? A landmark report has finally put a dollar figure on reversing the decline of kiwi but, explains Jamie Morton in the second of a two-part series, each of us also has a part to play.

Bar-tailed godwit flies in at first place
The bar-tailed godwit has been named New Zealand’s Bird of the Year, after weeks of heated competition  and some last minute scandal. Forest & Bird’s annual competition closed on Sunday night with more than 13,000 votes lodged by New Zealanders. Competition was fierce, with the New Zealand kōkako checking in with 1814 votes – not far behind the godwit’s 1957.

Ten things you never knew about New Zealand’s birds
New Zealand is famed for our native birds, and it has to be noted how strange and unusual some of them are. From the flightless kiwi to the curious kea or the fast falcon – there’s a lot to be proud of. But there are also a few facts you may not know about our special birds. Here are 10 weird and wonderful facts

From condoms to paper – why choose FSC?
Striking a balance between timber production and preservation is essential. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) promotes sustainable, holistic forest management through its international certification scheme. Certified products are sourced from responsibly managed forests – and the material is segregated from non-certified material en route from the forest to its destination (known as a chain of custody).

Economy and Business

The 1% Now Owns Half Of All The Wealth In The Entire World
If you’re lucky enough to be a member of the global 1%, last year was another good year to be alive (every year is pretty great, though). Your wealth bracket increased its share of global riches so that it holds just over half of global wealth, according to a new report from Credit Suisse. In the years 2000 to 2007, the richest people on Earth actually saw their proportion of global wealth fall, from 49% to 45%. But since the recession the trend has gone into reverse: The top 1% now controls 50.4% of all household wealth.

Shareholders spur action on climate change
Investor pressure is encouraging some of the world’s biggest companies to step up on sustainability, according to a new report from international sustainability leadership organisation Ceres.  The organisation directs the Investor Network on Climate Risk, which comprises more than 100 institutional investors with combined assets of over US$13 trillion. Shareholders Spur Action on Climate Change: Company Commitments From the 2014 & 2015 Proxy Seasons is based on information provided directly by 34 institutional investors who provided information on the results their engagement is delivering.

South Australian company to launch country’s first 100 per cent renewable energy utility provider
A South Australian company will launch the country’s first 100 per cent renewable energy utility company, with the author of the 2008 Climate Change Review signalling his support.  Professor Ross Garnaut has been appointed chairman of Zen Energy and said the company’s launch would be a game changer.

Leaked map reveals Big Gas eyeing most biodiverse place on earth
[The map] shows a gas company’s interest in doing “geological fieldwork” at two UTM-referenced points in the far west of the Manu National Park in Peru’s Amazon. The map vaguely and ignorantly – or hopefully? Disdainfully? – calls Manu a “reserve”, where gas operations are permitted. Not so in national parks. Peru’s 1997 Law of Protected Natural Areas states “the extraction of natural resources is not permitted” in parks, while the 2001 regulations for “protected natural areas” states the “settlement of new human groups and the exploitation of natural resources is prohibited.” In addition, the 1993 Constitution “obliges” the government “to promote the conservation of biological diversity and protected natural areas.”

Waste and the Circular Economy

€3.6M WRAP Project Targets European Clothing Waste
UK waste-reduction charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has announced a three-year commitment to reducing clothing waste through a new €3.6 million pilot project. Funded by EU LIFE, the European Clothing Action Plan (ECAP) aims to divert over 90,000 tonnes per year of clothing waste from landfill and incineration across Europe by March 2019.

Moguls on notice to clean up bling boats
No self-respecting oligarch these days can afford to be without a superyacht. Ownership of a bling boat is as obligatory as the Ferrari in the triple garage and the private jet on standby. However, within months any billionaire wanting to sail their marine home into US waters will have to comply with stringent new environmental regulations to curb their hulking vessel’s polluting effects. The regulations, which stipulate that certain types of vessel built after 2016 will have to be fitted with bulky equipment that converts nitrogen oxides into nitrogen and water…

Marine biologists discover rubbish haul in stomach of dead whale in Taiwan
Taiwanese marine biologists have discovered a mass of plastic bags and fishing net in the stomach of a dead whale, underlying the dangers posed by floating ocean trash. The 15-metre mature sperm whale was spotted stranded off the southern town of Tongshi on October 15. Coastguards and scientists returned it to the ocean but three days later it was found dead around 20 kilometres away.

Politics and Society

Bernie Fraser says Government’s moral case for coal mines argument is ‘nonsense’
AUSTRALIA – Bernie Fraser, the former head of the Reserve Bank and Climate Change Authority, says it is “nonsense” and “obscene” for the Federal Government to argue there is a moral case to open new coal mines. Mr Fraser has joined other public figures in signing an open letter which calls for a global moratorium on new coal mines to be negotiated at the United Nations climate talks in Paris at the end of next month.

Australia’s military stuck in the ‘wilderness’ over climate change, former ADF chief says
Australia’s military planners have neglected climate change threats to the country and neighbours, leaving forces under-prepared for imminent and far-ranging challenges, say two retired senior officers – including a former Australian Defence Force chief. “I don’t think it’s any secret that we’ve spent three years in the wilderness” on these issues, Chris Barrie, a former admiral who served as ADF chief from 1998 to 2002, told Fairfax Media.

Alan Finkel appointed Australia’s next Chief Scientist
Australia’s next Chief Scientist lives in a house entirely powered by renewable energy and believes that everyone will eventually drive an electric car like him. Dr Alan Finkel has been appointed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to replace outgoing Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb when his four-year term ends in December. Dr Finkel, who is currently the President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, will begin his new role as the government’s key science and innovation adviser next January.

In love with Uber and Airbnb? You might have ‘disruption fever’
AUSTRALIA – The Labor Party’s guidelines on the “sharing economy”, released last week, are a positive development for those concerned with the unfettered growth of businesses like Uber, Airbnb and others in the so-called “collaborative economy”. Concern had centred on the propensity of these platform-based businesses to operate with scant regard for existing legal frameworks and industry norms –- as typified by Uber’s global assault on any regulatory barrier it perceives as inhibiting its freedom to operate or expand. Some herald this “disruption” as necessary progress that allows the new economy to prosper to the advantage of consumers. Others question the nature of that progress and the implicit assumption that it provides net benefits to the community. Labor’s policy attempts to walk a tightrope between these two positions.

Clean farming in New Zealand
When you look at the farm of the future, what will really make the difference is the person standing in the paddock. There is science down on the farm and a growing army of highly capable, environmentally conscious farmers, says Professor Keith Cameron, Head of Centre for Soil and Environmental Research at Lincoln University. “The people involved are extremely important, the key to addressing the challenge,” he says. We need to have skilled experts who understand how farming and the environment affect each other.

Built Environment

To feed growing cities we need to stop urban sprawl eating up our food supply
AUSTRALIA – If you’ve eaten any of the new season’s asparagus recently, it probably came from Koo Wee Rup, a small town 60 kilometres to the south east of Melbourne. Koo Wee Rup produces over 90% of Australia’s asparagus. The region has perfect conditions for asparagus growing, and its ancient peaty soils have a reputation for producing some of the best asparagus in the world. Koo Wee Rup is just one of many food growing areas on the urban fringe of Australia’s state capitals that make an important contribution to the nation’s fresh food supply. The food bowls on the fringe of cities like Sydney and Melbourne are some of the most highly productive agricultural regions in Australia. But as these cities expand to accommodate rapidly growing populations, fertile farmland on the city fringe is at risk due to urban sprawl.

Happy fifth birthday, modern electric cars! Three key trends in the EV market
This December, the first cars sold in the modern era of electric cars will turn five years old.  We’ve seen impressive growth in those first 5 years—but have we arrived at a tipping point where EVs are inevitable? Probably not; despite major progress, policy support is playing a critical role pushing automakers who are reluctant and helping consumers overcome barriers to EV ownership. Therefore the next 5 years are critical to get us to that tipping point. To see where we might be going, let’s take a look at the state of the electric vehicle (EV) market and how it has grown over the last 5 years.

Food Systems

Lost in Transition: The Path to Organic
At this moment in time, American consumer demand for organic foods far exceeds the supply. Though the organic sector is a 39.1 billion dollar market with an annual growth rate of 10 percent (the fastest-growing sector of the food industry),[1] American food companies and supermarkets attempting to meet the demand for organic are increasingly looking overseas to find organic food suppliers. Why are American farmers resistant to becoming organic farmers — even just as a sound business choice, leaving philosophy aside?

Odyssey wines grows digital presence
Odyssey Wines has been a fixture on New Zealand’s premium wine circuit since the early 1990s under the guidance of owner Rebecca Salmond, a New Zealand native with international wine making experience and education. In recent years the brand, with vineyards in Marlborough and a BioGro organic certification, has taken powerful strides to ensure it continues to not only shine in New Zealand, but procure a loyal following abroad.

Exmouth and Shark Bay prawn fisheries receive Marine Stewardship Council Certification
Two West Australian prawn fisheries have received Marine Stewardship Council certification for their environmental sustainability. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a globally recognised certification and eco-labelling program for sustainable seafood.


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