Sustainable Development News

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

92% of the world live with dangerous pollution: World Health Organisation
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 92 per cent of the world’s population live in places where the pollution levels exceeded WHO limits. A WHO report said an estimated 3 million deaths each year were linked to outdoor air pollution, adding that figures rose to 6.5 million deaths in 2012 – accounting for more than 10 per cent globally – when indoor pollution figures were included.

NZ air among world’s cleanest, safest – report
New Zealand has some of the cleanest and safest air on the planet, a new World Health Organisation report suggests. The report analysed data from more than 100 nations, comparing exposure to ambient air pollution and related death and illness… However, Associate Professor Simon Hales of Otago University’s Department of Public Health questioned whether the report’s methods accurately reflected rates in smaller countries such as New Zealand.

Energy and Climate Change

Climate change study accused of erring on rising temperature predictions
Prominent climate scientists have issued a warning that a paper published in the influential journal Nature sensationalised climate change predictions and used an “incorrect calculation”. The Evolution of Global Temperature over the Past Two Million Years paper reconstructed 2 million years of global average temperatures.

Amazon, Google and the White House team up to visualize climate risk
USA – If you lived in New Orleans or New Jersey during the fallout from hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, resilience in the face of extreme weather isn’t an abstract concept. If you didn’t, a new open data tool aims to extend localized knowledge about looming environmental risks before you encounter them firsthand. The Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (PREP) is a public-private initiative unveiled last week in Washington that combines a clearinghouse of climate data with the capability to create customizable online dashboards, charts and maps. Users can use the tool to see how their areas or specific topics of interest, such as drought risk, stand to be affected in the coming years.

The A$1.2 billion saving Australia’s electricity rule-maker just knocked back
The governing body for our energy market, the Australian Energy Market Commission, has just missed a major opportunity to modernise our electricity networks. Last week the commission rejected a proposal to pay credits to small, local generators (such as small wind, solar and gas). Our research shows that this could save electricity consumers A$1.2 billion by 2050.

Hazelwood closure could open path for solar towers and storage
The impending closure of the big Hazelwood brown coal generator in Victoria could provide the impetus for the construction of the first large-scale solar tower and storage project in Australia. Analysts are scrambling to identify the possible impacts of the closure of Australia’s most polluting power station, and the withdrawal of more than 1500MW of capacity from the Victorian grid.

Toxic emissions surged after AGL acquired Bayswater coal-fired power plant
Toxic emissions from the power plant that made AGL Australia’s largest carbon polluter surged in the year the gas company acquired it, commonwealth figures reveal. Bayswater power station in New South Wales recorded double-digit rises in sulphur dioxide, hydrochloric acid, fine particle pollution and mercury output in 2014-15, according to the National Pollutant Inventory.

Queensland court rejects climate appeal against Galilee coal mine
AUSTRALIA – Queensland’s highest court has rejected an appeal by conservation group, Coast and Country, challenging the approval of Gina Rinehart’s Alpha Coal Project in Central Queensland’. The decision, handed down by Queensland’s Court of Appeal on Tuesday, is the latest in a string of regulatory and policy decisions made in favour of developing the Galilee Basin mega coal projects, among which the Alpha mine is expected to produce 30 million tonnes of coal a year.

E10 OK? RACQ says ethanol-blended fuel safe for cars, calls for discount
AUSTRALIA – The RACQ supports the E10 fuel education campaign released by the Queensland Government but wants motorists to continue to have choice at the bowser.  The Government recently launched the E10 OK website, encouraging motorists to increase their use of biofuels to help both the environment and the economy.

CEFC and Monash University team up on microgrids
AUSTRALIA – Monash University’s ongoing pursuit of sustainability has attracted the support of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Victorian Government. A Memorandum of Understanding was signed this month between the CEFC and Monash in support of the university’s Transformative Energy Initiative. The Victorian government also signed a separate MOU with the university to support the project, which will incorporate new energy technologies and smart microgrids.

Environment and Biodiversity

CITES species body rejects process for ivory sales
Delegates at the Cites meeting here in Johannesburg have defeated an attempt to set up a process to resume sales of ivory. Under discussion for eight years, the so-called Decision Making Mechanism was supported by a number of southern African states. It was intended to work out a way for legitimate ivory sales to resume at some point in the future.  But the Conference of the Parties (COP) heavily rejected the proposal.

Madagascar’s largest tortoise could become extinct in 2 years
Fewer than 100 ploughshare tortoises (Astrochelys yniphora) remain in the wild, conservationists estimate, and continued poaching of these animals for the illegal pet trade is likely to wipe out the last few individuals in the next two to three years. A coalition of conservation groups made this announcement in a statement to governments attending the ongoing Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Fewer than 100 ploughshare are estimated to occur in the wild. Photo by Peter Paul van Dijk/Global Wildlife Conservation.

Fewer than 100 ploughshare are estimated to occur in the wild. Photo by Peter Paul van Dijk/Global Wildlife Conservation.

The Deepwater Horizon spill may have caused ‘irreversible’ damage to Gulf Coast marshes
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has been called one of the worst environmental disasters in American history — and more than six years later, scientists are still investigating how much damage it actually caused. Now, a new study suggests the spill may have permanently marred one of the Gulf shore’s most important ecosystems.

Breathing easy: farm upbringing best defence against allergies
Protection against allergies and asthma in children who grow up on farms extends into their adulthood and may be linked to other health benefits, a new study reveals. A long-running international analysis, led by Australian researchers, also found that women who lived on farms as small children had stronger lungs than those raised inner city. The research published in The BMJ’s Thorax journal today studied more than 10,000 participants aged 26 – 54, from 14 centres around the world, including about 500 Australians.

Fertile ground: what you need to know about soil to keep your garden healthy
Most people think of soil only in terms of the dirt that sticks stubbornly to their hands and shoes. But soil is much more than that. A handful of soil is a small and very complex ecosystem which includes soil particles, pores, aggregates, organic matter and a staggering number of microorganisms, all of which interact to keep the soil healthy and productive.

Coffee and climate change: what you need to know
The issue of how climate change is affecting coffee production hit the headlines recently after the publication of a new report from the Climate Institute, which claims climate change will halve the area suitable for coffee production by 2050… This inevitably affects the more than 120 million of the world’s poorest people who rely on the coffee supply chain for their livelihoods. With this in mind, we brought together four experts to debate how coffee, and those who produce it, can be supported.

Economy and Business

Greenhouse gas emissions not priced at true cost – OECD
Several countries put prices on greenhouse gas emissions via a carbon tax, or in New Zealand’s case, an emissions trading scheme, to offset their climate change cost. The OECD has conservatively set the cost of future climate disasters caused by emissions at €30 ($NZ47) a tonne of CO2 or other greenhouse gases with an equivalent impact. But it says only 10 percent of all emissions from 41 mainly developed countries are at that price or above.

Exploring links between trade, standards, and the sustainable development goals
Trade has a critical role in achieving the sustainable development goals. The movement of goods and services across borders, as well as flows of technology, ideas and people, all enable progress toward ending poverty, improving economic growth and job opportunities, and reducing global inequality.  Some of the sustainable development goals directly mention trade as a key component, but trade’s relevance does not stop there. In fact, one of the more interesting ways trade can contribute to achieving the SDGs is through goal number 12 – promoting responsible consumption and production. This is where international standards can have a big impact.

China accused of defying its own ban on breeding tigers to profit from body parts
China has been accused of deceiving the international community by allowing a network of farms to breed thousands of captive tigers for the sale of their body parts, in breach of their own longstanding ban on the trade. The Chinese government has allowed about 200 specialist farms to hold an estimated 6,000 tigers for slaughter, before their skins are sold as decoration and their bones are marinated to produce tonics and lotions. Campaigners say this has increased demand for the products and provoked the poaching of thousands of wild tigers, whose global population is now down to just 3,500.

Rows of tiger cages at the Xiongsen bear and tiger farm in Guilin, China. Photograph: Sinopix/Rex

Rows of tiger cages at the Xiongsen bear and tiger farm in Guilin, China. Photograph: Sinopix/Rex

Zara creates first ‘green clothing’ collection
Spanish clothing and accessories retailer Zara has launched a new Autumn/Winter 2016 Collection made from sustainable materials. The collection – under Zara’s eco-label ‘Join Life’ – is made with eco-friendly materials such as organic cotton, recycled wool and forest-friendly wood fibre.

Teachers Mutual Bank adds 186kW solar, boosting banking sector PV by 80%
One of Australia’s largest mutual banks – supporting one of the nation’s most important industry groups, its teachers – has installed close to 200kW of solar on all four of its owned buildings, in a measure that is expected to help save the organisation $750,000 over the next five years.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Your Laundry Is Worse for the Environment Than You Think
New research shows that as many as 700,000 microscopic fibers are released into the environment each time we do the laundry. It’s a problem with no easy solution in sight. For years, scientists and environmentalists have wondered—and worried—if the simple act of washing our clothes might be triggering the release of microscopic plastic particles. A new Plymouth University study, now published in Marine Pollution Bulletin, shows this is very much the case.

What should we do with our disposable coffee cups? 
Conventional disposable coffee cups can’t be recycled in New Zealand and cause tonnes of waste. New options are coming through, but how do we handle the transition?

Environment takes priority over property rights, Hong Kong court told in waste dumping challenge
CHINA – The protection of the environment should take precedence over private property rights, a barrister arguing against a decision to allow construction waste to be dumped on the wetlands of South Lantau told the High Court on Tuesday. Stewart Wong Kai-ming SC, for Mui Wo resident Christian Masset, said there was a gap in waste disposal laws that had to be plugged.

Politics and Society

Why the International Criminal Court is right to focus on the environment
The International Criminal Court is not known for prosecuting people responsible for huge oil slicks, chopping down protected rainforests or contaminating pristine land. But these people may now one day find themselves on trial in The Hague. The move was announced by chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in a recent policy document that contains a new and welcome focus on the prosecution of individuals for human atrocities that are committed by destroying the environment in which we live and on which we depend.

Greenpeace blockades IOI palm oil refinery in Rotterdam port
Greenpeace activists have blockaded a palm oil refinery owned by IOI in the port of Rotterdam after a report linked the company’s third-party suppliers in Indonesia to deforestation, forest fires and human rights abuses, including child labour.

Built Environment

Report: Local government key to better basic service provision
National governments and international institutions need to do more to prioritise the financing of basic services such as energy, water, waste collection and transport provision. That is the central recommendation of the third GOLD report (the Third Global Report on Local Democracy and Decentralization) from the United Cities and Local Governments. Progress in the provision of access to basic services for citizens is a direct result of greater involvement of local government in that process, the report finds from its extensive surveys and interviews with players on all continents of the world.

Reducing emissions in ports
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a new report this monh focusing on emissions trends from diesel engines in ports. The report, called National Port Strategy Assessment: Reducing Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases at US Ports, puts forward different strategies aimed at reducing emissions, including replacing and repowering older, dirtier engines to deploy zero emissions technologies.


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