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

Too big to fail: China pledges to set up landmark emissions trading scheme
Chinese President Xi Jinping has made a landmark commitment on climate change during his state visit to the United States. A Chinese cap-and-trade carbon pricing program is scheduled to begin in 2017, and will be the world’s largest carbon market.In a US-China joint climate statement issued yesterday, China pledged to lower carbon dioxide emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by 60-65% from the 2005 level by 2030, and introduce a national emission trading system covering key industry sectors such as iron and steel, power generation, chemicals, building materials, paper, and non-ferrous metals.


UK to spend £5.8bn on tackling climate change in poor countries
Almost £6bn of the UK’s foreign aid budget will be spent on tackling climate change in poor countries over the next five years, David Cameron has said, as Britain steps up its contributions by 50% to help meet international targets. The prime minister will unveil the UK’s offer at the United Nations general assembly, before crucial international climate change talks in Paris in December where nations are expected to collectively pledge $100bn (£66bn) a year by 2020.

Floods after drought: why El Niño might not revive California
For months – for four years, really – California has been dying for a drink. Repeated dry winters and scorching hot summers have depleted reservoirs and river systems and set fire to much of the land. But now that the rain might finally be coming, carried along by an El Niño that promises to be one of the strongest in recent history, the ground isn’t ready to absorb it.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

Demonstration urges ANZ to divest
NEW ZEALAND – Climate change activists from around the Pacific and their New Zealand allies assembled and occupied a ‘Future Climate Refugee Camp’ outside ANZ bank’s flagship branch on Queen Street in Auckland, hoping to encourage the Australian-owned banking giant to divest from fossil fuels.  The camp, made up of army green cots, sleeping bags and bare-bones rations, represented a future for Pacific Islanders caused by climate change.

Environment and Biodiversity

U.S.-China Deal to Ban Ivory Trade Is Good News for Elephants
The announcement Friday that the United States and China will work together to enact “nearly complete bans” on the import and export of ivory represents the most significant step yet in efforts to shut down an industry that has fueled the illegal hunting of elephants, putting some species at risk. The agreement between U.S. President Barack Obama and China President Xi Jinping means that China, the world’s largest consumer of ivory, is bolstering its promise last May to crack down on its domestic ivory trade—a claim that left many skeptical.

Release of captive bred Tasmanian devils hailed as turning point in fight against disease
The release of the first immunised, captive-bred Tasmanian devils into the wild has been hailed as a turning point in the fight against the disease which threatens to wipe them out. Tasmanian devil populations have been devastated by a fatal facial cancer. Previously, healthy animals have only been released into the wild on Tasmania’s Maria Island which did not have an existing population. Late on Friday, 20 devils born in captivity were released into Narawntapu National Park, in the state’s north, to join the area’s wild population.

Frogwatch census gives clues to ACT environmental health
AUSTRALIA – From the staccato machine-gun noise of the spotted grass frog to the striped marsh frog’s unique sound, which is like a tennis ball knocking to and fro on court, the calls of frogs are varied. During Canberra’s annual frog census, more than 200 people note the assorted croaks with interest, to better identify the species living in a range of places… Ms Hoefer said the frog census illustrated “Citizen Science at its best”, with the volunteers contributing to the ongoing research by monitoring the amphibians and recording the water and air temperatures. “Frogs are an environmental indicator species,” she said. “We try to pinpoint what makes a wetland good or not so good for frogs.”

Mussel power scoops top prize
NEW ZEALAND – While most teenagers spend their spare time checking their Facebook updates, Yasmine Dai has been more interested in staring into murky tanks of sea water. Not so strange, as the 18-year-old hopes her investigation into the filtering power of the green-lipped mussel could aid ecologists as they look to the molluscs as tools to help clean up the Hauraki Gulf.

Maungatautari asks for kaka sightings to be reported
NEW ZEALAND – A nature sanctuary is asking for sightings of a nationally vulnerable forest parrot to be reported in an effort to learn more about the species. Sanctuary Mountain, Maungatautari, is home to at least 20 North Island kaka, acting natural heritage manager Matthew Lark said. Kaka are predominantly brown, but have a greyish-white head and neck, bright orange-red flashes under their wings and a crimson tummy.  He said the Waikato sanctuary is keen to learn more about the birds, classified as nationally vulnerable.  “We simply don’t have the data we need to understand more about them,” Lark said.

Staff at Sanctuary Mountain, Maungatautari, are asking people to report sightings of kaka around the region so they can gather information about the species.

Staff at Sanctuary Mountain, Maungatautari, are asking people to report sightings of kaka around the region so they can gather information about the species.

EU clamps down on grey squirrels and other invasive wildlife
EU embargo on trade, possession and transport of 37 invasive species filed at the WTO, but conservationists say species omitted for commercial reasons pose a major threat to biodiversity. Anyone caught exporting or possessing invasive species such as grey squirrels, ruddy ducks and water hyacinth in the EU will soon face heavy fines and confiscations, under a new blacklist filed at the WTO, which the Guardian has seen.

WWF: World’s richest reef system could soon succumb to climate change
…100 million of these reef-reliant peoples live in the Coral Triangle – singled out in the report as “richer in marine natural capital” than anywhere else on earth. Currently, fisheries exports from the Coral Triangle – which encompasses the waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste – amount to around $5bn (£3.3bn), including 30% of the global tuna catch, and a lucrative trade in live reef fish for food markets, which is worth nearly $1bn (£655m). But there are serious questions about the sustainability of these fisheries.

Economy and Business

AGL Energy embraces global warming policies before Paris talks on climate change
Australia’s largest carbon emitter, AGL Energy, will announce new commitments to climate policy and carbon pricing on the ASX on Friday, marking another “green” step for the energy giant in the lead-up to the Paris climate talks in December this year. A commitment to report climate change information as a fiduciary duty, an agreement to ensure responsible corporate engagement in climate policy and a commitment to put a price on carbon are the latest climate policy endorsements by AGL, in a year that has placed climate change on the agenda at the 170-year-old utility.

Local climate talks beckon positive change
The Australia-New Zealand Climate Change & Business Conference is to be held in Auckland at the end of October. It recognises that governments can address climate change head-on by making policies that reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts. The conference is designed to connect business and policy makers to teach and share ideas about how to tackle the problems surrounding climate change. “There have been many forums around the country over the past few years in which businesses and government have engaged one another, but this is an opportunity to do it on a national scale,” says Gary Taylor, Executive Director and Chairman of the Environmental Defense Society.

Lessons from VW: courage, climate change and the C-suite
Martin Winterkorn has resigned after finding himself in a real-life CEO nightmare. A relentless (and talented) NGO finds out an inconvenient truth – putting into question Volkswagen’s legal and moral obligations – authorities confirm corporate misconduct, the story goes viral, criminal charges are pending and the share price drops dramatically. Added to the mix is the fact that the planet is experiencing its hottest year on record, undoubtedly a situation that is not helped by what appears to be emissions-fraud.

Cricket NSW powered by tap water as Sydney Water strikes sponsorship deal
New South Wales cricketers will switch from sports drinks to humble tap water as Cricket NSW announces Sydney Water will be a major sponsor of the team this season. It is the first time in Australia that a public water company has partnered with a major sporting team. The announcement was made on the foreshore of Sydney Harbour by NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair. “We’re now at the point where we have some of the world’s best cricketers enjoying the world’s best water,” he said. “We will showcase Sydney’s tap water as the most healthy, affordable and sustainable choice for Sydneysiders and sportspeople.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Reinventing plastic for the circular economy
Whether you’re sitting at your desk, kicking back at home or just about anywhere else, stop and take a moment to look around. How many things in your immediate vicinity are made out of plastic? From reusable coffee cups to computer keyboards to nouveau compostable plastic food containers, stuff made out of polymers is everywhere. The good news, from an environmental perspective, is that more and more products — running shoes and car interiors made from old water bottles, for instance — are the result of a new wave in unconventional plastic re-purposing. Amid the circular economy craze, under which business models provide for materials to be constantly cycled back into supply chains, plastics represent both a huge opportunity and a huge challenge.

New Recycle Now campaign focuses on confusing plastics
WRAP’s Recycle Now has launched a new campaign to help consumers deal with the uncertainty they face when it comes to recycling plastics. The Recycle Plastic – Fantastic campaign runs until the end of November and aims to support local authorities, brands and retailers to expand consumer’s knowledge of the variety of plastic packaging that can be recycled.

Politics and Society

The pope’s address to the United Nations: an annotated reading
Francis laid out the idea of the ‘rights of the environment’ in a speech that also spoke of the need to end the persecution of Christians around the world. Our Rome correspondent decodes what the pope said to the general assembly.

Pope Francis demands UN respect rights of environment over ‘thirst for power’
The pope demanded justice for the weak and affirmed the rights of the environment on Friday in a forceful speech to the United Nations that warned against “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity”. A day after making history by becoming the first pope to address Congress, Francis for the first time asserted that nature – as well as humanity – had rights. “It must be stated that a true ‘right of the environment’ does exist,” Francis said. An attack on the environment was an assault on the rights and living conditions of the most vulnerable, he said, warning that at its most extreme, environmental degradation threatened humanity’s survival. “Any harm done to the environment, therefore is harm done to humanity,” Francis said. “The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species,” he concluded.

The sustainable development goals: we’re all developing countries now #SDGs
As the European refugee crisis worsens, the UN summit in New York to agree on the new sustainable development goals (SDGs) couldn’t come at a more pressing time. Mass movement from the so-called developing world into the EU is a reminder of the stark global inequalities the 17 proposed goals and 169 targets are designed to address. What’s different – and crucial – this time is that the raft of new targets are being applied universally. Unlike their predecessors, the millennium development goals (MDGs), which only applied to those countries deemed to be “developing”, the SDGs will require all nations to work towards them.

Open thread: which global goal should your country prioritise?
After more than two years of consultation and planning, the sustainable development goals have come to fruition. The 17 goals are designed to be the roadmap leading to a fairer world, tackling issues of poverty, inequality and climate change. Unlike their predecessors, the millennium development goals the new global goals are universal in nature, meaning they will be applied to all countries, rich and poor.

More on the SDGs:

How to Fix Capitalism: Part One
This is the second post in a short series on purpose. If you missed the first one, you should start here. I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers, but I think I’ve at least become better at understanding the problem. Capitalism has lost sight of its original purpose and is too narrowly focused on profit at the expense of society. There are very simple things we can do as citizens to help get things back on track, but we’ll need the help of policy for the heavy lifting.

Gaia Vince, Oliver Morton and the verdict on Morrissey – books podcast
Books have been in the headlines this week, so we’ve devoted this week’s podcast to catching up with some of the headline acts. Music editor Michael Hann tells us what he has learned from the new novel from the former Smiths frontman Morrissey. Next we head to the Royal Society, where Gaia Vince, winner of the society’s science book prize, tells us what inspired her to give up her job and travel to some of the most challenging environments on earth. Back in the studio, Oliver Morton explores how mankind can deal with the problems of the Anthropocene era, and whether we can imagine a future for the planet that doesn’t end in catastrophe.

Singapore moves against Indonesian firms over hazardous smoke haze over South-East Asia
Singapore has launched legal action that could lead to large fines against Indonesian companies blamed for farm and plantation fires spewing unhealthy levels of air pollution over the city state. Five Indonesian companies, including multinational Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), have been served with legal notices, according to a Singapore government statement issued late on Friday. The move followed a bitter diplomatic spat over Indonesia’s failure to stop a severe outbreak of smoky haze which has also affected Malaysia and persisted for years.

21st-century energy: get more efficient and embrace disruptive technology
AUSTRALIA – The first step towards 21st-century government ideas about energy policy will be to ignore last year’s Energy White Paper. It’s dinosaur thinking. The key drivers for energy in the 21st century are managing climate change, shifting community concerns, and radical technology change. The climate issue is well understood: fossil fuels generate three-quarters of Australia’s emissions and two-thirds of global emissions, and they must be slashed – preferably yesterday. Also, climate change affects demand for energy and performance of energy infrastructure. So energy policy must address that.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt confirms change of focus towards renewables, public transport
AUSTRALIA – Malcolm Turnbull has renewed the Government’s focus on our burgeoning major cities, appointing Australia’s first Minister for Cities and the Built Environment. Environment Minister Greg Hunt is one of three ministers who’s been asked to work on a new agenda in partnership with the states to “unclog” our big cities. The agenda will focus on integrated planning, infrastructure funding and making cities more environmentally friendly.

We keep choosing cars over clean air – that’s the real scandal
The Volkswagen emissions investigation looks set to be of one of the biggest corporate scandals in recent history – and we’ve seen quite a few. While most of the focus will be on VW in the coming days and weeks, the real scandal lies elsewhere: with European governments and regulators who turned a blind eye to rule-bending. In some cases they’ve actually helped carmakers avoid environmental restrictions. Documents leaked to the Guardian reveal just four months ago the UK, France and Germany all lobbied to maintain loopholes from outdated car emissions tests. Such behaviour isn’t unusual. For decades European car industry regulation has been weak and inconsistent, while car traffic and the resulting air pollution levels have been allowed to increase manifold.

Built Environment

The mud house with trees growing inside: Welcome to the Earthship
A grand design is under construction in the bush-lined Puketui Valley, Coromandel, the home that Gus Anning and Sarah Rowe, both 38, have always dreamed of. But it’s not a conventional house: Rowe and Anning are building an Earthship. Earthships are a form of “biotecture” that use natural and recycled materials to minimise their impact on the environment.  Grand Designs New Zealand starts Sunday October 4th on TV3.

Food Systems

North Sea cod could be back on menu as numbers improve
The eco-conscious fish and chips lover may soon be able to enjoy guilt-free battered cod caught in the North Sea after the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) removed it from their red list of fish to avoid eating. Stringent catch controls were imposed on the species in 2006 after two decades of overfishing pushed cod populations to the brink of collapse. But a recovery of North Atlantic stocks has led the MCS to nudge cod into their amber category for fish that can be occasionally eaten.


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