Sustainable Development News

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

World’s largest carbon producers face landmark human rights case
In a potential landmark legal case, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR), a constitutional body with the power to investigate human rights violations, has sent 47 “carbon majors” including Shell, BP, Chevron, BHP Billiton and Anglo American, a 60-page document accusing them of breaching people’s fundamental rights to “life, food, water, sanitation, adequate housing, and to self determination”.

Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, struck in 2013 and was one of the most powerful storms ever recorded. Photograph: Erik de Castro / Reuters/REUTERS

Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Yolanda, struck in 2013 and was one of the most powerful storms ever recorded. Photograph: Erik de Castro / Reuters/REUTERS

Energy and Climate Change

Climate models are accurately predicting ocean and global warming
For those of us who are concerned about global warming, two of the most critical questions we ask are, “how fast is the Earth warming?” and “how much will it warm in the future?”… A new study from my colleagues and I vindicates climate models, which are accurately predicting the rate of ocean heat accumulation.

We’re One Step Closer to Transparent Windows That Can Generate Solar Power
This week, SolarWindow Technologies, Inc. announced an ‘invisible’ system for transporting electricity within the company’s transparent organic coatings, which are applied in thin layers onto glass surfaces. The SolarWindow™ Intra-Connection System moves electricity generated in the coating to ‘invisible wires,’ which in turn transport electricity to the edge of the glass and connect to building electrical systems.

European offshore wind investment hits €14bn in 2016
The European offshore wind industry has enjoyed a record six months of investment, according to new figures released today by trade body WindEurope. In the first six months of this year Europe’s offshore wind projects attracted €14bn of investment, split across seven projects and financing a total of 3.7GW of new clean energy capacity. The UK attracted the lion’s share of new investment, with UK projects worth €10.4bn securing a final investment decision, amounting to roughly three-quarters of all European investment.

YHA New Zealand hostels roll out $2.7m solar network
Take a shower at a YHA hostel in the near future and your water will be heated by the sun. The Youth Hostels Association of New Zealand, a charitable organisation, is investing in a $2.7 million solar energy network for 11 of its hostels across the country.  Based on output, that’s the largest network in the country, Ben Cloake, sales manager for Sunshine Solar, said.

Environment and Biodiversity

The ‘raven’ whale: scientists uncover new beaked whale
If humans need a reminder of our collective ignorance about the natural world than here’s a really good one: scientists believe they have discovered a new species of whale. You read that right: a new whale. Scientists identified the new cetacean by a bizarre carcass that washed up in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands in 2014. At first, locals believed it was a Baird’s beaked whale (Berardius bairdii), but grew suspicious due to noticeable differences. Subsequent DNA tests have shown that the corpse is very likely a member of a species unknown to science, smaller and darker than its cousin, the Baird’s, with a larger dorsal fin and a distinctly shaped skull.

Antibiotic Found in Noses—Here’s What You Need to Know
On Wednesday, a team of German microbiologists unveiled a new kind of antibiotic from an unlikely source: bacteria that call the human body home. Got questions about how they sniffed out the discovery? Here’s everything you need to know.

Leading insecticide cuts bee sperm by almost 40%, study shows
The world’s most widely used insecticide is an inadvertent contraceptive for bees, cutting live sperm in males by almost 40%, according to research. The study also showed the neonicotinoid pesticides cut the lifespan of the drones by a third. The scientists say the discovery provides one possible explanation for the increasing deaths of honeybees in recent years, as well as for the general decline of wild insect pollinators throughout the northern hemisphere.
See also: These Pesticides Could Be Birth Control for Bees | Nat Geo

Increasing ocean acidity could impact fish spawning
A new study suggests that the increasing acidification of the oceans is likely to interfere with the ability of fish to reproduce. Researchers found that elevated levels of CO2, which make the waters more acidic, saw significantly lower levels of spawning. However, other mating behaviours of the same species were unaffected by the souring of the oceans. The scientists say the changes are “subtle but ecologically important”.

Slimy Green Beaches May Be Florida’s New Normal
The green slime that washed onto Florida beaches earlier this month marks the eighth time since 2004 that toxic algae have fouled the Sunshine State’s storied coastline. The algae blooms of 2013 were so severe the event became known as Toxic Summer. And this year’s outbreak has so thoroughly spread through delicate estuaries on both coasts that Florida officials declared a state of emergency in four counties. Toxic sludge has killed fish, shellfish, and at least one manatee and has sickened people who have touched it.

Robert Barstow shows his son the algae hugging the shoreline of the St. Lucie River on July 11 in Stuart, Florida. Photograph by Joe Raedle, Getty

Robert Barstow shows his son the algae hugging the shoreline of the St. Lucie River on July 11 in Stuart, Florida. Photograph by Joe Raedle, Getty

Orangutan ‘copies human speech’
An orangutan copying sounds made by researchers offers new clues to how human speech evolved, scientists say. Rocky mimicked more than 500 vowel-like noises, suggesting an ability to control his voice and make new sounds. It had been thought these great apes were unable to do this and, since human speech is a learned behaviour, it could not have originated from them. Study lead Dr Adriano Lameira said this “notion” could now be thrown “into the trash can”.

Contamination at Oakey will still be an issue in 100 years, environmental report finds
AUSTRALIA – A contamination plume around a Queensland Defence base will still be spreading in 100 years, a report has found. The 2,434-page Environment Site Assessment (ESA) for the Oakey Aviation Base has been released by the Defence Department today. The report was commissioned following contamination of groundwater near the base by a toxic firefighting foam containing the chemicals PFOS and PFOA.

Kiwis enlisted in battle to stop invasive species
NEW ZEALAND – The Government wants every Kiwi to play a part in repelling exotic pests and diseases from the country’s borders. It is using high profile “champions” such as Hawke’s Bay farmer and former Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills and “bug man” Ruud Kleinpaste to spread the message about biosecurity. Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy is seeking public feedback on how to manage the threat of invasive species with the launch of the Biosecurity 2025 discussion document.

ECan ‘could have been stricter’ on water rule breakers, vows to change
Environment Canterbury (ECan) is vowing to take a harder line on water breaches, acknowledging it “could have been stricter” in the past. Rule breakers had received their final warning, and full compliance from all water users was expected before the irrigation season began in October, chief executive Bill Bayfield said. Last month it emerged that hundreds of Canterbury farmers did not have water meters installed, nearly four years after they were required to by law.

Economy and Business

These forces are accelerating climate finance
2016 is a hot year for climate finance. Following the Paris Agreement in December and its ambitious pledges on clean energy and low-carbon investments, it is time for action and implementation… Global Innovation Lab for Climate Finance is seeking to speed up innovation to solve these worldwide challenges. It is engineering new solutions and supporting the development of new finance instruments that unlock private investment for climate-resilient and low-carbon growth in developing countries.

Just how ethical are socially responsible investments?
NEW ZEALAND – Some of the biggest funds in the country may consider themselves to be socially responsible investors, but an analysis shows few can actually prove it. A report by the Responsible Investment Association of Australasia showed the amount of money invested in ethical, social or sustainable funds in New Zealand swelled by 28 percent from 2014 to 2015. The increase was driven by consumer demand. But investing in the area is still a minefield because every fund has its own definition of what is, or is not, a responsible investment, critics say.

Are Your Retirement Funds Destroying Rainforests? This New Web Tool Can Tell You
USA – For the eco-conscious American, it may seem counterintuitive to invest in companies notorious for deforestation. Unfortunately, they may be unknowingly supporting such corporations through their retirement funds… With this issue in mind, Friends of the Earth and shareholder advocacy non-profit As You Sow have created a free online database,, to allow individual investors to determine their links to tropical deforestation and land grabs. The search platform currently includes 6,500 global mutual funds.

Is Islamic banking more risky compared to conventional banking?
As opposed to conventional banking, depositors to Islamic banks are entitled to be informed about what the bank does with their money and to have a say in where their money should be invested. Another difference is Islamic banks avoid interest at all levels of financial transactions and promote risk-sharing between the lender and borrower. In case of profit, both the Islamic bank and its customer share it in a pre-agreed proportion. In the case of loss, all financial loss is borne by the lender. In addition to this Islamic bank can’t create debt without goods and services to back it (such as physical assets including machinery, equipment, inventory).

Politics and Society

Children spend only half as much time playing outside as their parents did
Children today spend half the time their parents did playing outside, a survey suggests. While more than four-fifths (83%) of parents questioned thought it was important their children learned to use technology, nine out of 10 would prefer them to spend their childhood outdoors, developing a connection with nature.

Game of Thrones actor Raleigh Ritchie launches the National Trust campaign to help children engage with the outdoors. Photograph: Doug Peters/PA

Game of Thrones actor Raleigh Ritchie launches the National Trust campaign to help children engage with the outdoors. Photograph: Doug Peters/PA


Pokécology: people will never put down their phones, but games can get them focused on nature
In a new paper published in the journal Restoration Ecology, we argue that MAR games such as [Pokémon GO] can be a force for good in ecology and conservation, rather than being a cause for concern, as others have argued. The key is not to lament or rail against the popularity of gaming or augmented reality, but rather to embrace what makes them a success. They tap into people’s sense of fun and competitiveness, and they get people into the great outdoors – and this is all stuff that can encourage people to embrace nature.

Talking to disrupt: how professionals can speak out on climate change
I can remember joking with friends years ago about the ‘s’ word: sustainability. Among ourselves, we knew the best way forward was the most equitable between generations, but we had also had many conversations facing others who were blind-sided by a short-term perspective. Sustainability seemed to be a dirty word to some, but we still tried to push the envelope. We had a passion and we weren’t afraid to talk about it. Now, we are acknowledging the importance of how we talk about our interaction with our environment. Now, we are also talking about risk and resilience.

Interview: Josh Frydenberg, Environment and Energy Minister (Transcript and video 11:50)
AUSTRALIA – This story is about climate change. It barely rated a mention in the campaign. What a contrast to election ’07 when Kevin Rudd famously stated global warming was the greatest environmental and economic challenge of our time. Australia’s newly-appointed Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg now also carries responsibility for the Energy portfolio. The marriage of both policy areas was generally welcomed by green groups, but it was the appointment of the minister often known as Mr Coal that raised a few eyebrows.

Built Environment

Tesla Powerwall: What’s the verdict from the family who installed Australia’s first unit?
In a bid to save money on his electricity bill, Nick Pfitzner joined the growing number of Australians who have installed home battery units. Six months on, he has cut his daily power bill by nearly 90 per cent and said his family had become “smarter” with their use of appliances. “I have absolutely no regrets,” Mr Pfitzner told 702 ABC Sydney from his home in the Hills district. “The battery performance is still what it was on day one, and we’ll be keeping an eye on that over the coming years. I’ll consider more panels and another battery in a few years.”

A plan for Auckland – what you need to know
Auckland’s Unitary Plan had been revised by an independent hearings panel; and, in broad terms, it has recommended that the city become denser. This increase in density is in line with the council’s original thinking, but the panel has also made changes to the council’s original planning wish-list.

Food Systems

Is there any tuna that it’s OK to eat?
UK – For those who want to shop responsibly, fish is the PhD. Ideally, we would rely on retailers to make the judgment. Just this week, Tesco decided to remove “a number of core John West lines” from its shelves after concluding that the company’s tuna does not meet its standards. In practice, however, the picture is bewildering… So what should you consider if you want to buy sustainable tuna in the UK?
[Ed: It’s mentioned here that John West tuna was pulled from Tesco but in Australia, John West have recently attained MSC certification in a deal with Pacific Island fisheries (newsletter 30/06/2016). I find it amazing the same company has such different products on the other side of the world.]

From Kellogg’s to Unilever, a quiet revolution in sustainable farming
Randy Miller farms about 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans and hay in Iowa’s corn belt, where this time of year shoulder-high plants stretch for hundreds of miles. Here, and for a huge swath of the Midwest from Nebraska to Ohio, generation after generation of farmers provided the row crops that are staples of the American diet. And yet a quiet revolution is happening that’s manifest in the reduced fertilizer use and better yields from taller, fuller plants on Miller’s farm: Sustainable farming has taken root among farmers of roughly half of the U.S. row-crop acreage.

Vineyard cover crops reduce expense, save environment
Maintaining bare soil beneath vines has long been accepted management practice used to stifle competition and preserve water and nutrients for grapevines. Exposing soil beneath trellises has been achieved by using extensive herbicide treatments, a practice that is expensive and potentially damaging to the surrounding vineyard ecosystem and locations downstream, due to runoff. What’s more, excessive vine growth can result as a function of the lack of competition for water and nutrients, requiring costly canopy management practices in the vineyard to maintain fruit quality. Planting cover crops under grapevines instead can remediate these problems, according to researchers at Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY.

ECan pilot project to work with farmers separate from industry bodies
NEW ZEALAND – Environment Canterbury is conducting a pilot project to help more independent farmers complete their environmental plans. The programme will assess whether one-on-one meetings between farmers and ECan will work for those lacking outside support from the likes of irrigation schemes or industry bodies such as Fonterra. It is aimed at 100 farmers across Waimakariri and Selwyn districts, 50 in each, and has been running for about two months.


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