Sustainable Development News

Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world. Sign up to the newsletter if you would like the news direct to your inbox each weekday morning.

Top Story

Understanding the complex web of life
“Biodiversity provides the foundation on which all life depends, including human societies,” writes Nik Sekhran in the opening pages of “Biodiversity for Sustainable Development,” a captivating book released earlier this month by the United Nations Development Programme. “Ecosystems and biodiversity provide our food, water, fuel, medicine and shelter. They shield us from natural disasters and reduce our vulnerability to climate change. They create the very air we breath, recycle nutrients, control pests and generate the soil in which our food is grown,” explains the UNDP publication, which can be viewed for free at

Energy and Climate Change

UN climate change draft report sees risks of irreversible damage
Climate change may have “serious, pervasive and irreversible” impacts on human society and nature, according to a draft U.N. report due for approval this week that says governments still have time to avert the worst. Delegates from more than 100 governments and top scientists meet in Copenhagen on Oct 27-31 to edit the report, meant as the main guide for nations working on a U.N. deal to fight climate change at a summit in Paris in late 2015.

Global warming has doubled risk of harsh winters in Eurasia, research finds
The risk of severe winters in Europe and northern Asia has been doubled by global warming, according to new research. The counter-intuitive finding is the result of climate change melting the Arctic ice cap and causing new wind patterns that push freezing air and snow southwards.

Your coastal town’s climate score? There’s a website for that
Australia’s coastal towns, many built around fisheries and tourism, are particularly vulnerable to climate change. South east and south west Australia are marine hotspots — they are warming much faster than the rest of the world. Fish populations are changing as the seas warm. But a town’s vulnerability also depends on other factors — such as infrastructure, education, housing and employment. In a new website launched this week, Coastal Climate Blueprint, I and others have brought together all these factors to score coastal towns on their vulnerability to climate change.

What’s watt? The Renewable Energy Target explained
Confused by the jargon about gigawatts and a “real 20 per cent”? Here are some basics about the hotly contested Renewable Energy Target. Australia has some of the best solar and wind resources in the world. These renewables, as the name implies, are sources of energy that are typically not depleted no matter how much you use. Given the “market failure” to correctly price fossil fuels, policy corrections are needed, and adopting renewables is one. In Australia’s scheme, retailers are forced to buy a rising proportion of their power from sources such as hydro, wind and increasingly solar, with the cost passed on to consumers.

Environment and Biodiversity

Scientific academy slams government’s Great Barrier Reef plan
The country’s leading scientific academy has released a scathing critique of the draft plan to manage the Great Barrier Reef, warning it was inadequate to restore or even maintain the health of the World Heritage site over the next three decades. In its submission to the federal and Queensland government’s draft Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, the Australian Academy of Science stated the plan failed to acknowledge the reef had already suffered greatly from the pressures of climate change, poor water quality from land run-off, fishing and coastal development.  It concluded the Reef 2050 plan had insufficient targets or resources to reverse the reef’s downward spiral, documented by countless scientific studies and several government reports.

Inside the lonely fight against the biggest environmental problem you’ve never heard of
Ecologist Mark Browne knew he’d found something big when, after months of tediously examining sediment along shorelines around the world, he noticed something no one had predicted: fibers. Everywhere. They were tiny and synthetic and he was finding them in the greatest concentration near sewage outflows. In other words, they were coming from us. In fact, 85% of the human-made material found on the shoreline were microfibers, and matched the types of material, such as nylon and acrylic, used in clothing.

Saddleback find a 100-year record
A “ring of steel” has been set up to protect a young Wellington [New Zealand] family. But it is a family with a difference – the saddleback bird nest could be the first found outside the safety of a mainland sanctuary in more than 100 years. The nest of two rare saddleback chicks was discovered two weeks ago in Polhill Gully behind Aro Valley by Zealandia conservation officer Matu Booth when he was out looking for kakariki.

EPA Proposes Removing 72 Chemicals from Approved Pesticide List
The [USA] EPA has proposed removing 72 chemicals from its list of substances approved for use as inert ingredients in pesticide products and is seeking public comment on this proposal. The agency says it is taking this action in response to petitions by the Center for Environmental Health, Beyond Pesticides, Physicians for Social Responsibility and others. These groups asked the EPA to issue a rule requiring disclosure of 371 inert ingredients found in pesticide products.

Economy and Business

Does Monetization Equal Integrated Reporting?
By now, most readers of these pages will have noticed the emergence of social and environmental monetization schemes intended to quantify in financial terms the otherwise non-financial impacts of organizations. But do these schemes really qualify as sustainability measurement and reporting systems or even integrated reporting methods as some of their makers claim?

The future of business lies in people, not profit
Can business become a force for good?Even the question sounds like a suspect PR strategy, such is the depth of distrust of business. In the aftermath of the financial crisis there is soul-searching and this offers a golden opportunity for a different path. Over the past couple of years a group from business and society have been working on a distinctive approach to this. Called a Blueprint for Better Business, it offers a way for businesses to renew and regain a sense of social purpose. The key question is why a business exists. The point this group focused on is that the true purpose of business is to solve problems and meet social needs. Profit is the result. Profit is not the purpose.

US insurance companies not prepared for climate change, Ceres finds
Analysis of 330 of America’s largest insurance companies found that while a few are showing strong leadership to address the threats climate change poses, the majority of them are unprepared to face risks and opportunities arising from the unpredictability of climate events. The research, led by responsible investors network Ceres, looked at governance, risk management, investment strategies, greenhouse gas management and public engagement data disclosed by companies.

25 European banks fail stress test
The European Central Bank (ECB) has released the troubling results of its latest stress test, identifying 25 banks that have capital shortfalls amounting to €25 billion (£19.7bn). The test is designed to assess how banks would cope in another financial crisis. Whilst one in five European banks were deemed to have insufficient financial strength, some banks have taken steps since the end of last year’s exercise to improve their position. However, even with these improvements taken into account, the ECB warned that 14 banks must raise further capital.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Zero Waste: Backbone needed!
There’s more to it than “just getting started,” despite what many blogs will tell you. You’ve got to be prepared for a number of ongoing challenges. Many how-to articles about the Zero Waste lifestyle begin with the same encouraging words: “The hardest thing is getting started.” The insinuated message is that you’ll be on a roll as soon as you commit, that it will work out fine and be no big deal at all. In my experience, that’s not the case. In fact, I’d say that the hardest thing by far about going Zero Waste is having to live in a world where few other people care about Zero Waste.

Politics and Society

2030 pact UK’s most significant environmental deal ever – Ed Davey
A minimum 40% plunge in Europe’s CO2 emissions by 2030 agreed by EU leaders last week was a “historic moment” on the road to a global climate deal, enabled by a new British relationship with Poland, the energy minister Ed Davey has told the Guardian. The bloc’s proposed greenhouse gas curb will be studied closely by China, the US and other major emitters ahead of a global climate summit in Paris next year that aims to agree on the first new emissions-cutting treaty since the Kyoto protocol in 1997. The agreement allows the EU to continue pursuing a roadmap that is intended to arrive at a reduction of carbon output of 80-95% by 2050, in line with IPCC recommendations for keeping within a 2C trajectory of global warming.

The pitfalls of using renewable energy as a political football
Federal industry minister Ian Macfarlane has finally revealed his opening gambit on negotiations on the future of the Renewable Energy Target (RET). He and environment minister Greg Hunt have pledged to leave household solar alone but want deep cuts to targets for all other forms of renewable energy development. This was not unexpected, and it is just a symbolic ambit claim, an opening position designed to accommodate future compromise. But it does highlight some interesting points about the politics of renewable energy.

Can you be a sustainable tourist without giving up flying?
Australians love to travel. About 9 million Australians travelled overseas last year, 60% of them on holiday. For most tourists, sustainable development and climate change were probably not high on their list of concerns. But increasing numbers of travellers are concerned about these issues. What options does the environmentally concerned tourist have? Is the only responsible action to restrict holidays to places that can be reached by foot, bike, or train? This is certainly not impossible, but it seems unlikely that enough people would be willing to do it to deliver much of an impact. And even if they did, they would deprive many developing countries of the economic and environmental benefits of tourism.

Want To Train Your Brain To Feel More Compassion? Here’s How
Scientific evidence shows that we can teach our brains to feel more compassion, both for others and ourselves. Imagine how the world might be different if we all learned this skill.

Built Environment

Product non-compliance endemic in construction industry
The percentage of waste on all construction projects is around 30 per cent, according to experts, and a major contributor is the poor quality and non-compliant construction products and materials plaguing the industry. The Australasian Procurement and Construction Council, together with industry groups, has put this issue in the spotlight, believing that this level of waste is environmentally and financially unsustainable.

Greenbuild 2014: Green Buildings, Healthy Workers, Sustainable Design Apps, Free Online Learning
Some 47 percent of building owners cut their healthcare costs for employees in facilities with green building features such as daylighting and natural air circulation, according to a study by McGraw Hill, the AIA, CBRE, US Green Building Council, United Technologies and a host of other partners, presented at Greenbuild on Thursday. Commercial Property Executive reports on the survey and says it also found 91 percent of HR executives reported greater worker productivity.

Cooling the city (Video 9min 3sec)
AUSTRALIA – A push to tackle the Heat Island effect.

Food Systems

Tuna firm’s bungled IPO exposes China’s flouting of global fishing rules
Reporting on international fishing can often feel like investigating organized crime. Everyone knows how things are run, but the truth is obscured by shell companies, back-door dealings, and plausible deniability. This is why it’s remarkable that a recent, bungled initial public stock offering from a major Chinese tuna firm accidentally revealed something close to the truth about China’s fishing industry.

Feed the world? This organic food startup would rather not
Maine-based local food distributor Northern Girl hopes to support organic farmers and reduce food waste. The revolutionary bit? They’re keeping it small. Northern Girl supplies the Portland, Maine public school system with organic produce grown in-state, such as these chiogga beets. The startup hopes to revitalize the local food processing industry in New England.


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