Sustainable Development News

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

Half of Europe’s electricity set to be from renewables by 2030
Europe will likely get more than half of its electricity from renewable sources by the end of the next decade if EU countries meet their climate pledges, according to a draft commission paper. A planned overhaul of the continent’s electricity grids will now need to be sped up, says the leaked text, seen by the Guardian.

Energy and Climate Change

Barack Obama sets sizzling climate action pace in push to leave legacy
The White House has churned out about 40 new measures to fight carbon pollution just since the start of 2015, stepping up the pace ahead of critical talks for a global climate change deal. Two years after Barack Obama’s sweeping promise to fight climate change on 25 June 2013, the president has used his executive powers to spit out new climate events or announcements at a dizzying rate of one every 4.5 days this year, according to the running tally kept by the White House.

Adani may junk $16bn Oz project
INDIA – The Adani Group is likely to withdraw from the $16-billion (Rs 1,00,000-crore) Australian coal mining project, touted as the world’s largest, due to concerns over softening international coal prices, relentless attacks by environmentalists and delay in regulatory clearances, risking India’s largest FDI in Australia. The $10-billion infrastructure conglomerate, according to sources, is concerned about the slow pace of clearances and, to begin with, has decided to halt engineering work in the Carmichael mines in Queensland as well as on its rail line and expansion of Abbot Point port. This has led to speculation that the group is about to walk out of the project.

If you don’t like looking at wind farms, why not build them at sea?
The Australian government appears to be intent on scaling back wind farms in Australia. A Senate inquiry has recommended increasing regulation for wind farms in response to health concerns, and Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently commented to radio host Alan Jones that his government has managed to reduce the number of “these things” [wind turbines], but he personally would have preferred “to have reduced the number a whole lot more”. But there’s another solution that would continue to build the capacity of wind energy while removing possible impacts on land-holders: put wind farms out to sea.

Renewable Energy Target deal clears way for $450 million wind farm investment
A $450 million deal to build Australia’s third-largest wind farm marks the “first green shoots” of a revival in the clean energy industry after this week’s passage in the Senate of a reduced renewable energy target (RET). The 240-megawatt Ararat Wind Farm in south-western Victoria will now proceed with financing from developer Renewable Energy Systems (RES), turbine-maker General Electric and two other backers. “Everyone’s been waiting for a resolution of the RET,” Matt Rebbeck, chief operating officer of RES Australia, told Fairfax Media. “Everyone’s been waiting for certainty because certainty is what brings the investment.”

Australian Climate Roundtable: Business, union, environmental, investor and welfare groups form unusual coalition on climate policy
An unprecedented alliance of business, union, environmental, investor and welfare groups has been formed to forge what it sees as urgent common ground on climate policy. The highly unusual coalition — to be branded the Australian Climate Roundtable — comes as developed nations gear up for the Paris Climate Conference in December, where leaders will be under pressure to update their strategies for dealing with climate change.

NZ Herald Editorial: NZ should be doing its bit for the climate
Climate change protesters looked very chilly up on a parapet at Parliament this week. Icy conditions throughout the country and floods in some districts have made it hard to worry about the rising temperature of the planet, though climate science says extremes of all weather events are a consequence of global warming. They also tell us today New Zealand has one of the highest levels of scepticism on climate change. We are behind only Norway and Australia and marginally more sceptical then even citizens of the United States. Why might this be?

Q&A: Antarctica – our big icy threat
NEW ZEALAND – Scientists are watching the dramatic death throes of the huge Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica, which is giving way after 10,000 years. And in only the last six years, glaciers along the Southern Antarctic Peninsula have shed 14 trillion tonnes of water. What’s going on in the big frozen continent below us? Dr Nancy Bertler of GNS Science and Victoria University, a plenary speaker in the 2015 Antarctic Science Conference opening in Christchurch tomorrow, answered these questions from the Herald.

Fossil Fuel Divestment

California’s state pension funds move closer to divesting from coal
A key vote in the campaign to get California’s state pension funds to divest from thermal coal was passed this week. The California Public Employee Retirement System (Calpers) and the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) are the US’s largest pension funds, holding $299bn (£190bn) and $193bn in respective assets. Calpers currently holds at least $100m in at least 20 thermal coal mining companies.

Gates to invest $2bn in breakthrough renewable energy projects
Bill Gates has announced he will invest $2bn (£1.3bn) in renewable technologies initiatives, but rejected calls to divest from the fossil fuel companies that are burning carbon at a rate that ignores international agreements to limit global warming. Speaking to the Financial Times, Gates said that he would double his current investments in renewables over the next five years in a bid to “bend the curve” on tackling climate change.

Environment and Biodiversity

Ranger Killed, Others Injured in Africa’s Oldest National Park
One park ranger is dead and three more are injured in Africa’s oldest national park after a recent firefight with rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The death marks the first ranger killed since January in Virunga National Park, which is home to famed mountain gorillas and has lost 140 rangers to violence in the past few years.

Call for more protection for seagrass meadows
Seagrasses – the underwater plants that act as nursery grounds for young fish – need more protection, say scientists. Monitoring of seagrass meadows off the North Wales coast found areas damaged by the likes of boat moorings, anchors and vehicles crossing at low tide had reduced value to the ecosystem. Fewer species of fish were found where seagrass was degraded, according to research published in PeerJ journal.

A Big Moment for the High Seas
World leaders recently took an important step for ocean conservation when the United Nations General Assembly formally committed to negotiate an international agreement to protect ocean life on the high seas, an area that accounts for nearly half the planet.  Here’s why this is such a big deal.  For the first time, instead of negotiating a treaty to manage the removal of marine life from the ocean, the United Nations will negotiate ways to protect it and keep it in the water.

Lions to be re-introduced to Rwanda two decades after human genocide wiped them out
Lions will return to Rwanda for the first time in more than two decades after the endangered animal was wiped out in Rwanda’s human genocide. Seven lions, two males and five females, are being transported from South Africa and will arrive by air in Rwanda on Monday, where they will be taken and released after a two-week quarantine into the eastern Akagera National Park.

Black Bears Are Rebounding—What Does That Mean For People?
The American black bear (Ursus americanus), which was heavily diminished by overhunting, habitat loss, and fragmentation in the past century, is making an impressive comeback in parts of North America—particularly the East. An estimated 800,000 black bears roam the continent, slowly returning to many of their old haunts. Three success stories highlight the resurgence of the up-to-600 pound (270-kilogram) omnivores.

Dramatic Photos Show Brazil’s Crippling Drought
South America’s largest city is having its worst drought in a century. The city’s reservoir system is at historic low levels and may be completely dry by August. A drought seems like a strange concept in a country that still appears relatively lush and which is home to 12 percent of the world’s freshwater… The causes of the drought include large-scale weather patterns, deforestation (which has changed cloud formation), a soaring urban population, insufficient and leaky infrastructure, pollution of local streams, and lack of planning.

Economy and Business

Medal-winner links eco values with economics
For an ex-PR man, conservation linchpin Rob Fenwick might try harder to promote himself. Mr Fenwick is the common thread behind a suite of winning environmental and social endeavours after a stellar business career. From saving kiwi on the mainland and the Scott and Shackleton huts in Antarctica to his work with the Fred Hollows Foundation in the Pacific and St John in NZ – the CV is too long to do justice to it here. Yet beyond his network of influential, wealthy and not-so-wealthy friends, he’s probably best known for raking muck: the Living Earth compost venture he launched when he saw “economic value” in waste – be it garden, food or human.

#BusinessCase: SABMiller Saves US $17M Through Water, Carbon Reductions
This week, SABMiller released its annual Sustainable Development Report, announcing progress to reduce water use and carbon emissions and achievement of significant financials savings associated with these environmental measures. The company saved US$17 million in the last financial year compared with 2010 through water and energy related initiatives. While growing its production volumes, SABMiller cut carbon emissions from on-site energy use by 35 percent since 2008, equivalent to nearly one million tons.

Sustainability barriers hindering FM professionals
Businesses are facing a ‘sustainability crunch’ and finding it harder to implement sustainability policies, according to a new survey of UK facilities managers.  The survey, carried out on 309 facilities managers by the British Institute of Facilities Management (BIFM), found that confidence has fallen sharply. The number of facilities managers reporting their businesses are ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ in executing sustainability programmes fell from 60% in 2014 to 40% in 2015.

This Smartphone Is Made From Fairly Mined Minerals, And It’s Designed To Last Longer Than Your Contract
Bas van Abel wanted a phone that worked well enough, but avoided the conflict mineral issues and harsh working practices built into mainstream devices. So two years ago, he created the Fairphone, a phone that would be adequate in its functionality but exemplary in its supply chain. Since we last spoke to him, he seems to have succeeded. The Dutch company has sold 60,000 units and established a string of direct and traceable relationships with mineral suppliers around the world. Now it’s launching a wholly new version, one that considers not only the phone’s pre-life but its longevity and afterlife as well.

Trading away our rights? Spare a thought for the countries excluded from TTIP
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnerhsip (TPP) are quickly becoming the subject of increased interest and criticism. These two trade deals – the former being discussed between the US and Europe, and the latter between the US and Asian nations including Japan and South Korea – stand to change the face of global trade. The countries signing up to the partnerships are seeking to break down barriers to trade in all kinds of goods, from pharmaceuticals and food to energy. Many groups in the US and Europe have raised concerns about how the deals are being negotiated and their implications for standards and democratic principles.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The Recycling Industry is Losing Money — and Fast
It seems like easy work. You finish a bottle of water, toss it in the blue recycling bin and sleep easy at night knowing you contributed to helping the environment preserve products that can be salvaged. Recycling can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve natural resources like water and trees, save energy, and prevent pollution. But it also costs millions of dollars.

Meet The Children Who Live In Ghana’s Hellish Digital Dump
Fifty years ago, the Korle Lagoon was a thriving fishery. Now, the former wetland outside Accra in Ghana is a place where old electronics go to die. As part of a book called Living on a Dollar a Day, photojournalist Renee C. Byer visited the e-waste dump—now part of a sprawling slum that locals call Sodom and Gomorrah, and one of the most polluted places in the world. There, she met the children who work trying to make a living from the metals they can extract from old computers and cell phones. “They’re burning plastic to collect metal, and they’re using magnets to dig through this toxic waste to earn maybe a dollar or two a day,” says Byer. “I don’t think anyone really envisions this when they buy a computer.”

Politics and Society

The prospects for action on climate have never been better
A series of trends has combined to radically change policies among the largest emitters, writes John Quiggin

Climate change has been called “the greatest challenge facing the world,” and it has certainly been one of the most intractable. At countless international meetings dating back to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 everyone has argued that someone else should bear more of the burden. Meanwhile, emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have continued to grow. Even more significant has been the resistance of the political right in the English-speaking countries.

Even the pope gets it – carbon markets won’t fix the climate
Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment has quickly made him one of the world’s most significant figures in the climate debate. His message was notable not just for its acceptance of mainstream climate science but also for its outright rejection of market logic. Nowhere is this more clear than when he addresses the various emissions trading and carbon offsetting schemes that leave decisions such as whether to phase out coal power in the hands of the market.

Built Environment

Downtown Dublin Is Getting Rid Of Cars
Dublin ranks just under Los Angeles for having some of the worst traffic jams in the world. The problem is predicted to get worse as the city quickly grows—somehow, it will have to squeeze in 20% more commuters over the next decade. That’s why the city is now deciding to make a radical shift: It wants to ban cars from several major downtown streets.


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