Sustainable Development News

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

Fossil fuel growth centre harks back to old ideas about climate costs
On Wednesday, the minister for industry, innovation and science, Christopher Pyne, launched a new “growth centre” for Australia’s fossil fuel industry (and uranium), to be known as National Energy Resources Australia. The government will invest A$15.4 million over four years in the centre, which seeks to make coal and gas firms operating in Australia more competitive with fossil fuel firms operating overseas.

Energy and Climate Change

LA gas leak: worst in US history spewed as much pollution as 600,000 cars
A natural gas leak in the mountains above Los Angeles was one of the worst accidental discharges of greenhouse gases in US history. A new study shows the months-long disaster resulted in 97,100 metric tonnes of methane being dumped into the atmosphere… The gas blow-out occurred near the Porter Ranch on 23 October last year, prompting the evacuation of more than 5,700 local families. The leak took 112 days to plug, highlighting concerns over the climate impact of failures in ageing gas infrastructure.

U.S. Gasoline Use Slows With Uptick in Fuel Efficiency
USA – Gas is cheap — about $1.73 on average nationwide today — and that means Americans are driving more miles than they did back before the recession when gasoline topped $4 per gallon. Thanks to greater fuel efficiency, however, gasoline consumption is lower than it was at its peak in 2007, even though Americans are driving more than they did nine years ago, according to a report published this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Yackandandah 100% renewable plans kick off with 90kW solar health centre
AUSTRALIA – A community-based effort to shift the regional Victorian town of Yackandandah to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2022 has taken a significant step forward, with the launch of a 90kW solar array on the rooftop of the town’s heath centre… The solar system is expected to save the community-owned health centre $1 million over the next 25 years and slash its greenhouse gas emissions.

Environment and Biodiversity

Global call to change the way we regulate salinity
Scientists have made an international call to change water quality standards, with the aim of protecting biodiversity from salt pollution of freshwater. Human activities like agriculture and mining can result in rivers and lakes becoming polluted by salt. While most countries limit the amount of salt in drinking and irrigation water, they do not normally consider the effect of salinity on aquatic organisms.

Bee and butterfly loss ‘threatens world food supply’
Plummeting numbers of bees, butterflies and other insect populations are placing world food supplies under threat, a United Nations report has warned. Millions of people’s livelihoods are also at risk, researchers say. The first global assessment of creatures that pollinate crops found up to two in five are sliding towards extinction.
See also: Decline of bees poses potential risks to major crops, says UN

Low flammability plants could help our homes survive bushfires
One approach to reducing wildfire spread is to plant “green firebreaks” – strips of vegetation made up of plants with low flammability. Green firebreaks are based on the idea that this less flammable vegetation will extinguish a fire, or embers spotting ahead of a fire front.

Avian botulism rife: Don’t feed the ducks, Auckland Council urges
A favourite childhood pastime is under threat, with Auckland Council urging people to think twice before feeding bread to ducks at various water bodies across the city. The ducks may look like they want it, but leftover bread in water systems is rotting and supporting bacterial growth, contributing to a rash of cases of avian botulism.

Economy and Business

Exclusive: Land-clearing surge in QLD set to wipe out Direct Action gains – report
AUSTRALIA – In just three years the rate of land clearing will create enough additional carbon dioxide emissions to cancel out emissions savings the government says it will make by paying farmers $670m to stop cutting down trees.
See also: Wilderness Society: C02 report demonstrates land clearing is out of control – video

Clean energy could save hundreds of billions in health costs every year
USA – …Many people believe climate change mitigation policies require a change in our lifestyle and paying costs now for benefits that predominantly go to people living elsewhere and in future generations. Understandably, this is not at the top of the agenda for most voters. But focusing on the immediate health benefits of moving to cleaner energy has the potential to change the way people view climate change. In a study published this week, we found that slashing emissions from transportation and power generation would prevent about 175,000 early deaths caused by air pollution in the U.S. by 2030. We also concluded that the health benefits would be valued at US$250 billion per year, likely more than the cost of changing the energy system.

Can New Zealand be world leading on disclosure?
A group of businesses wants to see New Zealand take the lead in the way we report and share our financial, social and environmental plans and performance. The NZX’s review of its corporate governance reporting requirements within the NZX Main Board Listing Rules is an important step along that path. There are some outstanding examples and a growing number of New Zealand businesses reporting on non-financial matters and how they add value to business. But overall we still lag well behind many of our international peers, both in our rates of non-financial disclosure and the rules and requirements for reporting.

Waste and the Circular Economy

‘Greener’ asphalt, made using printer cartridges, trialled in Canberra
ACT Roads is evaluating the recycled asphalt, which is manufactured in a state-of-the-art facility operated by the Downer Group at Hume… Old asphalt removed from existing roads makes up 30 per cent of the overall mix and toner powder from empty printer cartridges contributes a further 0.5 per cent. The recycled toner replaces some of the bitumen traditionally used.

ABC’s Indonesia correspondent Adam Harvey falls into toxic sludge dump and lives to tell the tale
Jakarta is a dangerous place… The dangers are mundane, but lethal: drains with missing concrete covers, jagged metal edges on children’s play equipment, electricity wires hanging at head height. Every day I walk past a kerbside posse of motorcycle couriers who have spliced a wire into a overhead power cable to charge their mobile phones… But the most dangerous workplace I’ve seen is at the city’s dump, the final resting place for the rubbish of 20 million people.

Politics and Society

Should we eat red meat? The nutrition and the ethics
Many types of red meat and red meat products are available, from farmers’ markets, to supermarkets, to restaurants. The impacts of their production and consumption on human health, animal welfare and the environment are complex. So what should we be thinking about when we’re deciding whether or not to eat red meat?

Oscars Parties Putting the Spotlight on Purpose, Sustainability
What if the celebrities on the red carpet were asked questions such as “What is your purpose?” instead of “Who are you wearing?” PwC wants to find out. A partner in tallying the Oscar ballots and delivering the results on the big night, PwC aims to rethink the role of the red carpet.

Pygmy marmosets are being traded as trendy pets for about $4,500 each in China. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters

Pygmy marmosets are being traded as trendy pets for about $4,500 each in China. Photograph: Bobby Yip/Reuters

Social media helps fuel China’s illegal craze for ‘thumb monkeys’
The “year of the monkey” dawned recently in China – and with it, a trendy new exotic pet. Pygmy marmosets are all the rage among China’s wealthy elite, who are forgoing legality and snapping up baby monkeys at around $4,500 (£3,200) each. The internet has exploded with photos of the so-called “thumb monkeys,” while conservationists and primate scientists are lamenting the situation.

The Sharing Depot: Toronto company wants to bring ‘library of stuff’ to city
Founders of the Toronto Tool Library are working on a new project that aims to prove everyone becomes a little richer when resources are shared… The success of the tool library is a clear indication that people are hungry for more sharing, Dyment said. In just three years, the startup has opened four locations across the city, registered more than 2,000 members and loaned upwards of 25,000 tools ranging from screwdrivers to hacksaws.

How psychology can help us solve climate change
The Paris agreement on climate change calls for a global responsibility to cooperate. As we are often reminded, we urgently and drastically need to limit our use of one shared resource – fossil fuels – and its effect on another – the climate. But how realistic is this goal, both for national leaders and for us? Well, psychology may hold some answers.

The Climate Movement Needs More Corporate Lobbyists
USA – Across corporate America, there is broad support for action on climate change. Leading businesses and executives vocally supported President Obama on the Paris Agreement. Many companies have committed themselves to getting onto a sustainable path, and many are pushing their commitment out through their supply chains. This is good, and it’s important. But it makes us in Congress feel a little left out. The corporate lobbying presence in Congress is immense. But in my experience, exactly zero of it is dedicated to lobbying for a good, bipartisan climate bill.

Defence white paper shows Australian forces must safeguard nature too
The relationship of military forces to the natural environment is typically depicted as one of destruction, rather than protection. The federal government’s new defence white paper, however, shows signs that this relationship may be being reversed.

CSIRO and climate: the devil in the detail
AUSTRALIA – Diary of a Climate Scientist | Cutting funding at this stage of climate change research comes with enormous risks, writes Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick

Built Environment

Cyclone destroyed newly-built homes
Mr Perrottet, who has spent the past week in Fiji, including the interior of the western division, said houses that should have offered some protection are now uninhabitable. On the other hand, he said, roads and bridges built in the past five years with the help of overseas investment have stood up well, making it easier to get aid to isolated areas.

Cyclone Winston: Village built by Australian man for Fiji’s poor survives unscathed
Cheap, sturdy houses designed by an Australian man have survived Fiji’s devastating cyclone with barely a scratch and provide a potential blueprint for reconstruction efforts. In Koroipita, or Peter’s Village, on the north-west coast of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu, residents are cleaning up after Cyclone Winston. But it is not a massive effort like those seen in other cyclone-ravaged parts of the country.  Instead, a handful of men are repairing a small section of a collapsed retaining wall. Of the 230 houses, none sustained any significant damage after Cyclone Winston swept through the Fiji islands.

Food Systems

Trending: GAR, Astra International Fulfilling Palm Oil Supply Chain Promises
Two powerful palm oil companies are fulfilling promises related to accountability in their supply chains and bolstering their sustainability. Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), the world’s second largest palm oil plantation company, has achieved the major milestone of mapping its palm oil supply to mill. The company tracked its crude palm oil and palm kernel supplies back to 489 individual mills in 8 different locations in Indonesia with the help of environmental organisation The Forest Trust (TFT).

Is that muesli bar you put in your child’s lunchbox actually healthy?
There are rows upon rows of packaged snack foods in supermarkets, including snack bars made from muesli, cereal, nuts, seeds and fruit. Many of the labels on the packages shout out words such as “natural”, “protein”, “oaty”, “super-food”, “wholegrain”, “light”, “gluten-free” and “97% fat-free!”. But these words can mask unhealthy products. Many processed snack bars are high in added sugar, refined starch and fat. Knowing what is in snack bars is of particular importance to parents given nearly one in five two- to 18-year-olds consume these muesli or cereal-style bars, and one in four Australian children are overweight or obese. So, how do you navigate the confusing snack bar terrain? Here are five tips.


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