Sustainable Development News

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

Biodiversity greater inside Earth’s protected areas, study finds
Biodiversity is greater inside the world’s protected areas, scientists have been able to show for the first time. There are 15% more individual plants and animals and 11% more species inside than outside protected areas, according to the largest analysis of biodiversity in terrestrial globally protected areas to date. The study, carried out by the University of Sussex, the Natural History Museum and the UN Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre, analysed biodiversity samples taken from 1,939 sites inside and 4,592 sites outside protected areas.

Energy and Climate Change

The big lesson big companies can teach their utilities
My observation is that many companies have adopted the philosophy that it’s OK to sell more stuff as long as all the resources and ingredients needed to make said stuff are responsibly sourced, sustainably harvested and manufactured with little impact to the environment… It’s also been my observation that most utilities, until recently, haven’t thought much about sustainability. So even though replacing coal-fired power plants with renewable sources of energy and making our homes and buildings more energy efficient are, in fact, the best ways to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, many utilities haven’t seen themselves as part of the sustainability discussion.

Hinkley Point C: the UK’s last energy megaproject?
Britain’s first new nuclear plant in decades has been approved. The board of French energy giant EDF has voted in favour of investing in a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset, England. However, this is unlikely to be the last delay to a project now eight years behind schedule and it won’t end the debate of whether this is the right step forward for energy in the UK… But what’s missing is a fresh discussion on what to do instead of large projects like Hinkley. This requires us to challenge the mindset that’s led the UK to paint itself into a corner.

New European Commission emissions reduction proposals fail to prioritise energy efficiency
Key new European Commission climate proposals, covering 60 per cent of EU greenhouse gas emissions, fail to match the aspirations of the Paris Agreement to keep global warming well below 2°C, and include astonishing “loopholes”, especially on energy efficiency, analysts say.

Ausgrid to fast-track household solar and battery installs, cut costs by $200
NSW network operator Ausgrid says it intends to fast-track installation of residential energy saving technologies, making it cheaper and easier for households in the state to install solar and battery storage… The changes to the application process, due to be applied later this year, will remove the need for a more detailed technical assessment of systems of 5-10kW for single-phase connections and 15-30kW for three-phase connections.

Northland power price hike an economic ‘disaster’ – mayors
NEW ZEALAND – Northland councils are warning that new transmission prices planned by the Electricity Authority would be a deadly blow to the region’s economic development. National grid charges in the north have risen by 80 percent in the past decade and the region’s mayors say the Authority’s latest proposal would add 76 percent – another $15 million total – to Northland power bills.

Environment and Biodiversity

Reef sharks in French Polynesia rely on annual mass grouper spawning for food
Up to 900 reef sharks can live in a small patch of one of the most untouched reef environments in the world, thanks to an annual migration of groupers arriving at their door, researchers have found. The discovery, which suggests fish aggregations for mating and spawning play a key role in maintaining shark numbers on reefs, has important implications for conservation, Dr Johann Mourier said.

Not fire-breathing, but still pretty scary. Fischer et al

Not fire-breathing, but still pretty scary. Fischer et al

Meet Viserion and Drogon: the new ant species named after the Game of Thrones dragons
The island of New Guinea is home to some of the rarest animals on the planet. Among them are over 800 species of ants with a diverse range of fascinating characteristics, each well-suited to their unique island habitat. Scientists estimate that around 60% of these ants are found only in New Guinea. In many cases, a single species originally colonised the island and then developed into multiple distinct forms.


RSPCA wants to stop ‘cruel’ dingo cull of feral goats on Great Barrier Reef island
AUSTRALIA – The RSPCA is seeking to stop dingoes being used to kill feral goats on Pelorus Island in north Queensland. The animal welfare organisation will appeal to Biosecurity Queensland’s ethics committee to revoke its approval for the project, according to Mark Townend, the RSPCA’s chief executive officer.

Marine ecologist calls for protection of significant seabed sites in Marlborough Sounds
NEW ZEALAND – Ecologically significant seabeds in the Marlborough Sounds will continue to be lost without protection, a marine ecologist says. Rob Davidson said Marlborough had a poor record of protection and often there were excuses to do nothing.

ECan cracks down on Christchurch City’s water use
NEW ZEALAND – A three year investigation into Christchurch’s water supply has found local authorities do not know how much water will be needed as the city grows. It comes at a time when the city’s aquifers have hit record lows, and the councils are looking at ways to cut the amount of water being used… It said a model needed to be developed to calculate the “sustainable yield” of the city water supply, based on population growth, the rural water demand and industrial use.

Economy and Business

The cement industry needs a breakthrough, now
The toughest climate challenges involve large global industries, with no good substitutes. One of these produces the material literally under our feet — concrete. Every year, each of us in the U.S. uses about one-third of a ton. Fast-growing developing countries use far more. Globally we produce over 4 billion metric tons of Portland cement per year — the key ingredient in concrete and responsible for the majority of its CO2 footprint — driving over 5 percent of total anthropomorphic CO2.

Why Starbucks issued its first ‘sustainability’ bond
Slowly but surely, U.S. companies are waking up to the notion that bonds can be a useful financing mechanism for all manner of corporate sustainability projects. In February, Apple shook up the market with a $1.5 billion green bond issue — the largest undertaken by any U.S. tech company — that will pay for a range of environmental initiatives. More recently, Starbucks issued $500 million in debt that will be used for several purposes, including underwriting programs for farmers that adhere to the Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices, a set of guidelines Starbucks adopted roughly 15 years ago for growing and harvesting crops more sustainably.

Australia can do much better than a rank of 20 on sustainable development goals
The 17 SDGs were agreed at the United Nations last September and aim to put the world on a more sustainable economic, social and environmental path over the next 15 years. They also include a number of targets in areas such as health, economic growth and the environment which governments, businesses and communities will aspire to. Businesses are becoming increasingly interested in the SDGs and in aligning their business planning with the goals. A recent survey of over 1,000 Australian and New Zealand businesses indicated that 85% were aware of the goals and many were keen to measure their impact on the SDGs.

Animals Starving in Venezuela Zoos
When a nation is plagued by hard times, people aren’t the only ones to suffer. About 50 animals at Venezuela’s Caricuao Zoo have starved in the last six months due to the rising cost of food, caused by the nation’s economic downturn. Rabbits, tapirs, porcupines, pigs, and birds are among the fallen at the country’s northern zoo. Some went without food for two weeks.

Waste and the Circular Economy Food waste Travellers check

Unilever, Hubbub, WRAP Join Forces in Pursuit of a Zero Food Waste Britain
New research commissioned by environmental non-profit Hubbub and consumer goods giant Unilever reveals that in the first week of the summer break, £12 million worth of food will be thrown away as UK families head off on holiday; more than half of people surveyed admitted to throwing away perfectly edible food before they went on holiday. This unfortunate statistic is in keeping with 2015 research from the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), which found the UK to be among the top food wasters in Europe.

Rio Olympic organizers fail to meet all environmental goals
When Rio de Janeiro won the bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games — set to begin on August 5th — the Brazilian government committed itself to cleaning up the city’s notoriously dirty waters as part of its Olympics legacy. These goals were institutionalized in the Responsibility Matrix, a document that gathers together commitments made by the federal, state, and municipal governments presented to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). That was in 2009. Seven years and US$10 billion later, both the state and city have announced that they won’t meet any of their environmental goals.

Politics and Society

15 fire-linked firms escape prosecution in Indonesia’s Riau
On July 23 the local police headquarters in the Sumatran province of Riau released SP3 notices related to 15 companies that the Ministry of Environment and Forestry had listed in connection with last year’s fires. A SP3 is an official police document that confirms a case has been closed. No charges will be brought against any of the 15 firms.

A man stands before a pile of oil palm fresh fruit bunches at the height of last year’s fire and haze crisis in the Central Kalimantan city of Palangkaraya, one of the hardest hit by the disaster. The orange color is real. Photo by Bjorn Vaughn

A man stands before a pile of oil palm fresh fruit bunches at the height of last year’s fire and haze crisis in the Central Kalimantan city of Palangkaraya, one of the hardest hit by the disaster. The orange color is real. Photo by Bjorn Vaughn

Tarantula and Bug Petting Zoos Help People Conquer Fears
Petting zoos usually give people a chance to interact with animals that they already think are cute, like baby goats. So when Andrine Shufran shows up to U.S. state fairs with a menagerie of tarantulas, cockroaches, and scorpions, it tends to freak people out. Some people “come up to the table and scream—like, literally scream—and run away,” she says. The fact that these critters make people nervous is actually the reason that Shufran, an entomologist at the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension, decided to start her traveling Insect Adventure petting zoo.

Frydenberg says renewables not to blame for South Australia energy “crisis”
AUSTRALIA – Josh Frydenberg, the minister newly elevated to the combined energy and environment portfolio, says that renewable energy was not to blame for the recent energy “crisis” in South Australia, although he did deliver some mixed messages about how the government proposes to move forward. Frydenberg delivered a series of interviews on Wednesday, the first since he was appointed to the new position in a reshuffle by the re-elected Turnbull government.

Tilting against windmills? Industry doubts NSW support for wind farms
AUSTRALIA – New wind farm guidelines are expected to impose tough requirements on developers to limit their visual impact in a move that proponents say will put NSW at a disadvantage to other states. The proposed guidelines, requiring developers to prepare visual impact assessments according to the height of turbines, were disclosed by the planning department to a select group of prospective wind energy developers on the sidelines of a two-day clean energy summit in Sydney on Thursday.

Editorial: Government’s pest-free plan needs teeth
Could New Zealand rid itself of predators, a task of seemingly biblical proportions? Yes, says the Government, though its plan includes important caveats. The target date is 2050, when today’s ministers will mostly be footnotes in the history books. The initial government investment is a tiny $7m per year for four years, when experts suggest the real cost of the project will be wildly more – $9 billion or higher. And it needs to be a “massive team effort”, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry says, which means heavy lifting from the private sector and volunteer groups.

Built Environment

Perth developer in strata solar and battery first
AUSTRALIA – An ambitious Perth developer has gained approval for the first strata complex in Australia to offer shared solar and battery storage, promising to cut resident energy bills by 30 per cent. The Evermore WGV project by Yolk Property Group, based at LandCorp’s White Gum Valley development near Fremantle, will feature 24 apartments that are also being built based on Bioregional’s One Planet Living framework.

Brisbane’s controversial West Village development faces state call-in
AUSTRALIA – The Queensland state government could take control of the controversial West Village urban renewal project in Brisbane’s West End, following sustained community campaigning over a perceived lack of amenity, sustainability and affordability provisions. This week deputy premier and minister for planning Jackie Trad announced she was using her powers under the Sustainable Planning Act 2009 to issue a proposed call-in notice for the mixed-use development.

RICS launches green roofs and walls guide
AUSTRALIA – The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has released a guidance note providing advice on getting green walls and roofs on commercial and residential developments. It said the “landmark” guidance, launched this week by NSW planning minister Rob Stokes, offered the world’s first template for owners to adopt when licencing rooftops for commercial uses, making it easier for them to integrate green infrastructure into buildings.

Food Systems

“Carbon farming” good for the climate, farmers, and biodiversity
Conversations that involve lowering the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by agricultural means rarely include the sort of techniques championed by award-winning author, Yale University lecturer, and Project Drawdown senior fellow Eric Toensmeier, but his new book, The Carbon Farming Solution, suggests that their popularity could be on the rise. By one estimate, a billion farmers worldwide are already practicing agroforestry, one method of “carbon farming.” Beside carbon sequestration, such techniques can also boost food production, biodiversity, water quality, and more. Toensmeier recently answered Mongabay’s questions about it during a wide-ranging conversation.

What would it take to mainstream “alternative” agriculture?
Innovative food systems such as agroecology can become the norm if we weave a web of legitimacy from science, politics, society and values.

More, Better, Responsible Food: The Value of Sustainable Agriculture to Investors
Today, agricultural systems account for between 15 and 26 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, 75 percent of global deforestation and 70 percent of all water consumed globally. Forward-looking corporations realize that while food production needs to increase dramatically, such negative environmental consequences simply cannot. For this reason, companies have developed relationships with farmers to support best practices, outlined procurement policies regarding agricultural operations, and set up a variety of independent organizations to assure the sustainable production of key ingredients.


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