Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Energy and Climate Change

The climate ‘hiatus’ doesn’t take the heat off global warming
The recent slowdown in the rise of global average air temperatures during the first decade of the 21st century is being used as a touchstone argument for those who deny the science of global warming. But in research published today in Nature Climate Change, I and others show that the “hiatus” is just a blip on the radar compared to the long-term warming we have in store.

Extreme weather already on increase due to climate change, study finds
Extreme heatwaves and heavy rain storms are already happening with increasing regularity worldwide because of manmade climate change, according to new research. Global warming over the last century means heat extremes that previously only occurred once every 1,000 days are happening four to five times more often, the study published in Nature Climate Change said.

On these numbers, Australia’s emissions auction won’t get the job done
Last Thursday, the Abbott government announced the results of its first reverse auction of emissions-reduction projects. Using A$660 million drawn from the A$2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), the government has purchased 47.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, as a first step towards reducing greenhouse emissions under its Direct Action plan. Federal environment minister Greg Hunt proclaimed the auction to be a “stunning result”, claiming that the ERF alone will get the government to achieve its existing Kyoto target. But how effective has this first auction really been, and what might we expect in the future?

Infographic: emissions reduction auction results at a glance
The results of the government’s first reverse auction of carbon-cutting projects have been released. Where is the money going? The government will spend A$660 of its A$2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund on contracts set to reduce emissions by some 47 million tonnes, more than half of it in “carbon farming” projects to lock up carbon in vegetation. Federal environment minister Greg Hunt described the outcome as a “stunning result” for Australia, pointing out that the average price of A$13.95 per tonne of carbon is cheaper than the previous government’s carbon pricing scheme. But critics have pointed to the lack of involvement so far from industry sectors that were covered by the previous carbon tax, and the fact that the new scheme is paid for by taxpayers rather than the businesses creating the pollution. Here are the numbers.

US Defense sustainability embrace a goldmine for Aussie innovators
The US Department of Defense’s multi-billion-dollar Net Zero Fund offers a huge potential market for Australian energy efficiency and sustainability companies.  Later this year I will be undertaking energy and carbon reduction workshops in Washington DC to develop projects to access the US Department of Defense’s Net Zero Program. The workshops will be co-presented with Australian applied research and consulting groups as well as Defense supply chain companies. Net Zero is a significant undertaking by US Defense to, in effect, green the military and supply chains. It aims to bring civilian sustainability measures into the defence arena and as the Defense literature states this can be done “while also maximising operational capability, resource and availability and wellbeing”.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Andrew Motion and Wellcome book prize authors call on charity to divest
Sir Andrew Motion and more than a dozen authors and judges honoured by the prestigious Wellcome book prize have called on the huge medical charity to sell off its investments in fossil fuel companies. The Wellcome Trust, whose £19bn endowment makes it the second biggest health charity in the world, says “climate change is one of the greatest contemporary challenges to global health”. It is among the targets of a fast-growing climate change movement  calling for divestment from fossil fuels.

Environment and Biodiversity

Seismic testing begins in sensitive marine parks despite government claims
Seismic testing to look for petroleum has begun in protected marine areas off the coast of Western Australia after permits were quietly granted by the Abbott government. Fairfax Media revealed last week the government had issued the permits while it reviews 40 new marine reserves declared in 2012 under Labor. The permits include areas off the WA coast from Geraldton and the Abrolhos Islands where no mining activity could have occurred if the government had not suspended the parks and called a review. Oslo-based company Spectrum-Geo told Fairfax Media it completed round one of its seismic testing last month.

At home with the world’s last male northern white rhinoceros
Mohamed Doyo seems to have a dream job. Every evening, he patrols the Kenyan savannah, glimpsing lions chasing down darting Thomson’s gazelles, hearing the calls of red-chested cuckoos and, when there is a full moon, seeing the majestic, snow-capped peaks of Mount Kenya in the distance.But Doyo can scarcely stop to admire the extraordinary views because he and a large squad of rangers perform an extraordinary job: they must keep poachers away from one of the rarest species on earth, including the star attraction at the 135 sq mile conservancy, Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino. “This responsibility weighs so heavily on our shoulders,” says Doyo. “It is sad what human greed has done and now we must keep watch every minute because it would be unimaginable if the poachers succeeded in killing these last few animals.”

Thai customs seize 511 pieces of elephant ivory destined for Laos
More than three tonnes of elephant ivory have been found at a Thai port stashed in a container shipped from Kenya, customs said on Monday, the second huge haul of tusks from Africa in less than a week. The discovery, which would be worth millions of dollars on the black market, was destined for Laos where the illegal ivory trade flourishes.

Victoria must stop clearfelling to save Leadbeater’s Possum
AUSTRALIA – The Leadbeater’s Possum, Victoria’s faunal emblem, has been formally recognised as critically endangered. In a media release late on Wednesday, Environment Minister Greg Hunt stated there was an “unequivocal need” to move the species from endangered to the critical listing.

Enormous effort to save native birds
NEW ZEALAND – An enormous effort to save native birds from a tide of pests has delivered some promising results in the South Island, following 1080 drops across vast swathes of beech forest. Despite rat populations reaching plague levels in some areas – on the back of a one-in-15-year beech seeding event last spring – tracking rates indicate rats and stoats were knocked down to undetectable or very low levels at most sites, giving much needed protection to vulnerable native birds and bats.

GDT Nature Photographer of the Year 2015 – in pictures
Tuscany flowers to tawny owl in Munich, Kalahari lion to musk ox in Norway, we pick out some winners from GDT Nature Photographer of the Year awards 2015.

Economy and Business

Nike and Adidas show cautious support for eco-friendly dye technology
It has been a significant step forward for the textile sector. Up until now the effluent from dye houses that can often be seen in rivers flowing through the textile manufacturing areas of India, China and elsewhere is a result of unabsorbed dyes, chemicals and heavy salts that are used during the dyeing process. A number of companies, DyeCoo, ColorZen and AirDye have set out to address this pollution by designing waterless dye technology. The result is a reduction in wastewater, energy, chemicals and toxic discharge to such a degree that it could revolutionise the textile industry.  Major brands including Nike and Adidas have been integrating waterless dye technologies into their product lines, but costs and limitations have experts in the textile industry worried that the support will not last.

Two years after Rana Plaza, have conditions approved in Bangladesh’s factories?
It’s been two years since the Rana Plaza tragedy, and although much remains to be done to ensure the rights and safety of workers in Bangladesh’s still-booming garment industry, progress has been made. Global brands including H&M, Mango, Primark, the Gap and Walmart, among a dozen others, have contributed $21.5m to the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund, which was set up to award compensation to victims and their families.  According to Srinivas Reddy, Bangladesh director for the International Labour Organization (ILO), which is administering the fund, there is a shortfall of $8.5m. Vocal protests have focused on late-to-donate brands like Benetton and The Child’s Place, while first movers Primark and H&M have received high praise for their commitment to making things right.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Disposable tampons aren’t sustainable, but do women want to talk about it?
Half the population deals with it on a monthly basis, but frank discussions about what menstruation does to women’s bodies, moods and abilities is not encouraged by society – just ask tennis player Heather Watson or artist Rupi Kaur.  Many critics say that this cultural taboo has, at least in part, helped the disposable feminine hygiene industry thrive.

Politics and Society

The Australian Consensus Centre: what are the costs and benefits to UWA?
This column is usually focused on the role of entrepreneurship, innovation and small business in the Australian and global economy. However, I am devoting this article to a discussion over the costs and benefits of the plan to establish the Australian Consensus Centre (ACC) at the University of Western Australia (UWA). This is in the spirit of academic freedom and is a reflection of a senior UWA academic staff member who cares deeply about the reputation of my institution.

Shell lobbied to undermine EU renewables targets, documents reveal
Shell successfully lobbied to undermine European renewable energy targets ahead of a key agreement on emissions cuts reached in October last year, newly released documents reveal.  At the time of the deal European commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, said: “This package is very good news for our fight against climate change.” Adding: “No player in the world is as ambitious as the EU.” But it now appears that a key part of the agreement – which was championed by the UK government – was proposed by a Shell lobbyist as early as October 2011.

We need our leaders to speak out on climate change, not stay silent
Something is missing from the British general election campaign. Climate change had its 3.5 seconds of fame during the seven-way leaders’ debate, but has barely been heard of since. Save for the occasional specialist hustings, and the odd supplementary manifesto, climate change – allegedly the defining challenge of the 21st century – is missing in action. But strangely, the problem seems largely one of style rather than substance. Putting the climate-sceptic UK Independence party to one side (the current Department for Energy and Climate Change would be abolished if they had their way), there are no shortage of climate policies in the parties’ manifesto pledges.  So while there appears to be a robust political consensus around the importance of climate change, it is a silent consensus – which from the point of view of public engagement, may as well not be a consensus at all.

Inoculating against science denial
Science denial has real, societal consequences. Denial of the link between HIV and AIDS led to more than 330,000 premature deaths in South Africa. Denial of the link between smoking and cancer has caused millions of premature deaths. Thanks to vaccination denial, preventable diseases are making a comeback. Denial is not something we can ignore or, well, deny. So what does scientific research say is the most effective response? Common wisdom says that communicating more science should be the solution. But a growing body of evidence indicates that this approach can actually backfire, reinforcing people’s prior beliefs.

Local and national interests clash in Indonesia’s palm oil industry
The industry of palm oil, the product found in everything from chocolate to lipstick that is habitually reviled by environmentalists, is facing new challenges due to unrest in key producing regions. It was reported by the Cameroonian Association of Oil Refineries this month that the export of refined products including palm oil from several African nations, including Nigeria and Cameroon, has been “virtually at a standstill” for several months due to a spate of murders and kidnappings committed by Islamic militant group Boko Haram.

Offline inmates denied education and skills that reduce re-offending
A 2008 study in the US estimated that one in every 100 adults is behind bars and more than 40% will return to prison following their release. Rates of recidivism are as high as 60% in the UK. But for prisoners undertaking post-secondary education programs, rates of recidivism are considerably lower. In Norway, where internet access is permitted in inmates’ cells, recidivism rates are as low as 20%. In New Zealand, educational programs are helping to reduce recidivism by anywhere between 8% and 11%.

Built Environment

Report: how to develop the business case for deep retrofits
A new guide to assist investors to calculate the true increase in returns achievable through deep energy retrofits has been released by the Rocky Mountain Institute.  The How to Calculate and Present Deep Retrofit Value model moves past the standard capital cost versus energy savings equation to consider a wider range of factors including higher tenant returns and property resale value gains. The authors state that this approach more clearly shows the overall financial benefits of deep energy retrofit projects and can therefore assist proponents to achieve a “yes” from key decision-makers to requests for retrofit capital.

Food Systems

Encouraging the right kind of picky eating
NEW ZEALAND – With three children-ages two, five and seven-Anna Bordignon lives a chaotic life; but not too hectic to send her kids off to school with waste-free lunches that are natural, nutritious and healthy for the planet. Bordignon is the founder of Munch, a homegrown business powered by nearly a dozen passionate mothers that aims to provide families with the best recipes and products for eating naturally and sustainably as well as encourage parents to think more about what they are feeding their children.


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