Sustainable Development News

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

Helen Clark discusses the global challenges facing humanity
The planet is under pressure like never before. With a ballooning population consuming ever-more of its resources, the profligate way in which humanity operates is starting to backfire. Writer Jamie Joseph spoke to Helen Clark, United Nations Development Programme administrator and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, about the global path we are all on, and where opportunity lies.

On reacting to climate change:

“This is a global issue that affects everyone, but I just don’t see the level of citizen mobilisation around this issue that I saw in my relative years around the war in Vietnam, or nuclear weapons, or apartheid. Things change when citizens make it a big enough priority.”

Energy and Climate Change

CFMEU backs Labor RET on condition of unprecedented assistance for vulnerable workers
AUSTRAL A – The surprise backer of a 50 per cent renewable energy target at the Labor Party’s weekend conference was Australia’s largest coal mining and energy union. Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) president, Tony Maher, seconded Bill Shorten’s energy policy, on the condition a Labor government provide unprecedented assistance for thousands of workers in traditional coal-fired generators and mines who might lose their jobs. “We’ve got to face the reality in domestic coal-fired power,” Mr Maher told 7.30.

Is Hillary Clinton’s ambitious solar energy goal for the US workable?
On Sunday, Hillary Clinton took a first swing at the many-headed carbon hydra. By the end of her first term, she said, the US would have seven times more solar energy capacity than it does today. And by 2027, renewable energy would supply a third of the nation’s electricity… Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Americas chief, Ethan Zindler, said the ambition was high, but within reach. “It appears to be on the upper end but it’s entirely doable given the rapidly improving economics of renewables generally and solar particularly.”

French climate ambassador concerned over slow progress of Paris draft for negotiations
France’s top climate ambassador has said she is very concerned at the slow rate of progress on a negotiating text that will form the basis of a new international deal on global warming in Paris later this year. But Laurence Tubiana also said that negotiators from nearly 200 countries were making headway on the document, and made clear that the French government wanted to see serious progress on the text by October. The comments, in an interview with the Guardian, came as climate ministers met last week to advance international climate talks before a crunch UN summit in Paris this November and December.

‘Laughing gas’ emissions from farming understated in US
Emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O) from agriculture in some locations are underestimated by 40% according to new research. The gas is a significant threat as it contributes both to global warming and the destruction of the ozone layer. Intensive farming and the use of fertilisers are the biggest human sources of the substance. This new study adds to a body of evidence that N2O is a far bigger problem than previously thought.

Moo or false: do cow farts contribute to climate change? – quiz
How savvy are you about the unexpected forces affecting our planet? Take this quiz to find out

Environment and Biodiversity

India conducts first official survey of Ganges dolphins
The conservation of dolphins in India’s holiest, but most polluted waterway, is under the spotlight as the country conducts its first official count of the freshwater species. An estimated 450 volunteers, government experts and conservationists will take part in the exercise, which spans the states of Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, in November and December… The government also hopes to gauge the health of the river in the process. “This time we have taken aquatic biodiversity as an indicator of how pollution is affecting the Ganges,” said Dr Behera.

Sirocco the spokesparrot makes a return visit to Zealandia
NEW ZEALAND – Sirocco the kakapo knows the journey to Wellington well – and this time he was allowed to do it solo. The Department of Conservation’s “spokesbird” will spend six weeks at Zealandia from August 1, having close encounters with the public to raise awareness about the plight of the 125 remaining flightless parrots… He will return to his home on Little Barrier Island/Hauturu in time for the beginning of the breeding season. He had previously stayed at Zealandia until October, but often became a little too frisky by that stage. He became a worldwide star thanks to a YouTube video showing his attempts to mate with the head of zoologist Mark Carwardine, who was filming a documentary with comedian and author Stephen Fry.

Sirocco, one of only 125 living kakapo, gets acquainted with his new enclosure at Zealandia.

Sirocco, one of only 125 living kakapo, gets acquainted with his new enclosure at Zealandia.

Economy and Business

Startup ‘Democratizes’ Sustainability Reporting Software
Sustainability reporting isn’t easy, and it’s rarely cheap. Large companies may have the finances and dedicated staffs to develop custom sustainability software, but small businesses often must make to without — relying on “old-school” technology such as Excel spreadsheets. As one might imagine, this makes it difficult for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to practically track their sustainability performance. That’s why a company called Rapport created a cloud-based software platform that allows SMBs to more easily collect and track their own sustainability metrics, such as water usage or the number of commuter miles their employees drive each day.

Shadow play: how China’s unregulated banks feed its boom and bust economy
More turbulence on the Chinese stock market highlights just some of the challenges facing the world’s second-largest economy. Following losses of US$3 trillion in the three weeks from mid-June, the Shanghai Composite has since recorded its biggest one-day fall for more than eight years. It’s clear that regulatory reform is needed in the country’s financial sector and China’s large shadow banking sector is one area in particular need of government intervention. Shadow banking refers to the collection of non-bank financial institutions that provide services similar to traditional commercial banks. In particular they provide consumers with credit. But they are not regulated like banks and so are liable of making riskier loans.

Can business make profits and improve employee rights and wellbeing?
In a globalised labour market characterised by outsourcing, low wages and minimal workplace guarantees, is there any space for promoting the social wellbeing and interests of employees?  Yes, if you want to safeguard the profitability of your business, argued a number of panel guests at a recent roundtable debate hosted by the Guardian, in partnership with mining company Anglo American.

Green thinking saves Virgin Media parent-company $325m
The world’s largest cable and telecoms company, Liberty Global, has announced savings of $325m in 2014 thanks to an ambitious environmental programme.  The company, whose brands include Virgin Media, Ziggo, Unitymedia, Telenet and UPC, released its 2014 CR report on Monday, revealing a 31% improvement in carbon efficiency and 34% improvement in energy efficiency. The savings put the company well ahead of its key environmental goals: to improve the efficiency of electricity consumption by 15% every year through 2020 and become five times more carbon efficient by the end of the decade, compared to 2012.

Waste and the Circular Economy

McVitie’s ‘Biscuit Wrapper Brigade’ saves one million wrappers from landfill
A landmark one million biscuit wrappers have been saved from landfill through an innovative recycling scheme dubbed McVitie’s Biscuit Wrapper Brigade. McVitie’s manufacturer United Biscuits announced this week it had passed the milestone after teaming up with recycling specialists TerraCycle to offer incentives to customers who recycle their wrappers. Made using a mix of materials, biscuit wrappers are typically difficult to recycle and local authorities are often unequipped to deal with them. However, TerraCycle has sought to tackle the problem by providing a means for customers to collect and return wrappers and offering incentives for those that do.

Reformation Partners with Community Recycling to Ignite Fashion Reuse Movement
As only 15 percent of clothes, shoes and accessories are recycled each year — with the remaining 85 percent, 10.5 million tons, ending up in landfills — more and more apparel brands (including H&M, The North Face, American Eagle Outfitters, and most recently, Levi-Strauss) are taking initiative to collect and recycle textiles. And starting today, Los Angeles-based eco-fashion brand Reformation joins their ranks, through a partnership with Community Recycling.

Council approves recycled water plant
AUSTRALIA – Lake Macquarie Council has approved a sewage treatment and recycled water plant at Cooranbong. The $2.5 million dollar facility will service more than 2,000 new homes at the Watagan Park Estate. It is hoped the centre will help drought-proof the area by reducing Cooranbong’s demand on drinking water by up to 70 per cent.

Politics and Society

Progress on green growth is ‘uneven’, OECD finds
Countries are still failing to comprehensively link environmental and economic reform priorities, according to a new report from the OECD. The study found that while most countries are adopting green growth policies, progress is “uneven” and governments are undermining their effectiveness by subsidising fossil fuels and taxing some of the most polluting fuels at a low rate. The latest report, released yesterday, assesses the progress of the OECD’s Green Growth Strategy, which was launched 2011. The new report aims to help accelerate countries’ implementation of green growth policies by providing more targeted, coherent policy advice.

Alexander Gillespie: Endangered species and cultural traditions must be protected
NEW ZEALAND – Few matters excite debate as much as indigenous cultures seeking to preserve traditional practices feasting on endangered species. In the excitement, three basic considerations have been overlooked. First, no ethnicity can claim to be more environmentally pure than another. All cultures have destroyed species… Second, in addition an obligation to protect endangered species we also have a clear obligation, via both international and domestic responsibilities, to protect many of the cultural traditions of Maori, which those communities still deem relevant… Third, where the obligation to protect traditional cultural practices that rely upon the consumption of endangered species arises, difficulties appear…

Open letter: we must stop killer robots before they are built
More than 1,000 of the leading researchers in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics have today signed and published an open letter calling for a ban on offensive autonomous weapons, also known colloquially as “killer robots”. The letter has also been signed by many technologists and experts, including SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, physicist Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Skype co-founder Jaan Talinn and linguist and activist Noam Chomsky. Musk, Hawking and Wozniak have all recently warned about the dangers that AI poses to mankind.

Built Environment

Homestar: an independent rating tool for New Zealand homes
Not all New Zealand houses are created equal when it comes to energy efficiency, health and comfort – just ask anyone who’s lived through a winter in an uninsulated villa. But unless you have prior knowledge of building or design, it can be difficult to know which homes tick the right boxes. That’s where Homestar comes in. Homestar is a comprehensive, independent rating system that assesses and rates how well our homes are designed and constructed to perform to health, warmth and sustainability standards.


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