Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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High pressure for low emissions: how civil society created the Paris climate agreement
The international climate change agreement reached in Paris in December 2015 was an extraordinary diplomatic achievement… What fewer people have noticed is that it was also a remarkable display of the political power of civil society. The Paris agreement was forged over two gruelling weeks of negotiations between governments. But it was crafted into being over the previous five years by a broad coalition of forces from global civil society.

Energy and Climate Change

Mass extinctions and climate change: why the speed of rising greenhouse gases matters
With increasing CO₂ levels, temperatures and ocean acidification also rise, and it is an open question how ecosystems are going to cope under such rapid change. Coral reefs, our canary in the coal mine, suggest that the present rate of climate change is too fast for many species to adapt: the next widespread extinction event might have already started. In the past, rapid increases in greenhouse gases have been associated with mass extinctions. It is therefore important to understand how unusual the current rate of atmospheric CO₂ increase is with respect to past climate variability.

Great Barrier Reef: aerial survey reveals extent of coral bleaching
An aerial survey is revealing the worst bleaching ever seen on northern parts of the Great Barrier Reef, as the scientist leading the survey live-tweets the devastation and pleads for the world to take action on climate change. Last week Terry Hughes, a professor at James Cook University and convener of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, told Guardian Australia he planned to hire a charter plane and map the bleaching to see how bad it was… On Tuesday, Hughes said he surveyed 600km of reef and found that more than 60% of it had been bleached.

The scientist who first warned of climate change says it’s much worse than we thought
The rewards of being right about climate change are bittersweet. James Hansen should know this better than most — he warned of this whole thing before Congress in 1988, when he was director of NASA’s Institute for Space Studies… Fast forward 28 years and, while we’re hardly out of the Waffle House yet, we know much more about climate change science. Hansen is still worried that the rest of us aren’t worried enough.

Global coal and gas investment falls to less than half that in clean energy
Global investment in coal and gas-fired power generation plants fell to less than half that in renewable energy generation last year, in a record year for clean energy. It was the first time that renewable energy made up a majority of all the new electricity generation capacity under construction around the world, and the first year in which the financial investment by developing countries in renewables outstripped that of the developed world.

FactCheck Q&A: is Australia the world leader in household solar power?
AUSTRALIA – Solar PV has made a valuable contribution towards reducing Australia’s very high per-capita greenhouse emissions from electricity generation. Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg’s told Q&A viewers that Australia has more household solar panels, per head of population, than anywhere in the world. Let’s check the claim against the available evidence.

Environment and Biodiversity

Saving Half the Planet for Nature Isn’t As Crazy As It Seems (Book Talk)
It’s hard to be an optimist these days. We are living through what biologists call the sixth mass extinction, a time of dramatic depletion of species, from frogs to rhinos and butterflies. By the end of the century, it is estimated that one in six species will be extinct. The causes—human population growth, habitat loss, climate change—are complex and interlocking, fueling each other in an ever faster destructive spiral.  But E.O. Wilson, the esteemed biologist and National Geographic Hubbard Award winner, believes we can still save what is left of the planet.

Saving the Kakapo on Codfish Island
NEW ZEALAND – I jerked awake in the middle of the night to the sound of an unholy shriek outside the open window. It took me a few seconds to remember I was, on the top bunk in a DOC hut on Whenua Hou, and to realise that it was probably a bird making that noise and not someone being killed. While I wish it had been the revered mating boom of the kakapo, it was more likely the undignified squawk of a little blue penguin, but I’ll take what I can get.

Study calls for change in controlled burning to protect vulnerable species
AUSTRALIA – Burning off large stretches of bushland can have devastating impacts on local plant and animal species, threatening genetic diversity, according to a new study. Researchers from the Australian National University tracked the impact of prescribed burns on several different species. Controlled burns have been carried out during cooler months to reduce the bushfire risk around populated areas.

Kimberley seed bank: Traditional knowledge used to protect biodiversity
AUSTRALIA – A seed bank project in remote northern Australia is training Aboriginal women in horticulture to help protect plant biodiversity of the region. Nyul Nyul, Karajarri and Bardi Jawi Oorany women ranger groups are being taught to collect, store, and propagate culturally significant seeds and endangered plants so their genes can be stored forever.

Economy and Business

Doing Good While Doing Business
Businesses are increasingly using Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives to create positive brands and appeal to socially conscious consumers. Well-designed CSR programs that focus on sustainable development – as defined by the United Nation’s (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – are powerful and essential tools for increasing standards of living around the world. Not only do these CSR initiatives positively impact targeted individuals and communities, but they also benefit the companies. In light of these facts, businesses should increase the share of revenue they dedicate to CSR and design initiatives that use their own core competencies to promote sustainable development.

Why doesn’t sustainability messaging work better?
I’ve been a sustainability strategist at Adobe since 2013, and one challenge I constantly run up against is: how do we frame messaging around genuine sustainability initiatives within our own business in a way that encourages others to adopt the same practices at home and in their communities?  When I discuss it with my sustainability peers, it is clear we all struggle with this challenge.

Apple says you can “feel really good” about buying its products. Don’t believe them.
Lisa Jackson, Apple’s VP of environment, policy, and social initiatives, took to the stage at a press event Monday to discuss the company’s new environmental commitments. And from what Jackson, an ex-Environmental Protection Agency administrator, said, Apple’s doing pretty damn well… But how much good is Apple really doing? Sure, 93 percent renewables is about 93 percent better than most giant corporations, but Apple puts a whole lot of crap into the world that we don’t really need.

Global trends in renewable energy investment
An authoritative and detailed analysis of global investment in renewable energy is published today [24 March], revealing record global investment ($285.9bn in 2015, up 5%), record capacity installed (134GW, up from 106GW in 2014) and – perhaps most strikingly – for the relative importance of developing countries. Developing economies invested $156bn in renewables [1] in 2015, up 19% on the previous year, an all-time high and 17 times the figure for 2004. By contrast, investment by developed economies slipped 8% in 2015 to $130bn. This is the first time that the emerging world has out-invested the richer nations.

Waste and the Circular Economy

How the World’s Most Wasteful Country Is Leading the Shift to a Circular Economy
John A. Mathews and Hao Tan, both professors based in Australia, believe that the country that consumes the most resources in the world and produces the most waste also has the most advanced solutions. In a recent article for Nature, they summarized China’s progress on closing industrial loops to reduce its industries’ consumption of virgin materials and waste generation – in other words, the development of a circular economy.

Toy Box Club: A new model for toys
There are few items that have a shorter lifespan than a child’s favourite toy. Eagerly picked out off the shop’s shelf, intensively played with, but ultimately discarded after a short amount of time for reasons ranging from age, trends and simply shifts in interest. A recently launched service called the Toy Box Club aims to transition that parental challenge into an opportunity by jumping on the collaborative consumption and sharing economy trends.

Sam Judd: Waste not want not at WOMAD
NEW ZEALAND – Last weekend I was lucky enough to go to the excellent WOMAD festival in Taranaki. The home of oil and gas and a stronghold for dairy farming – this region is not usually recognised as a pinnacle of environmental performance, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a very high standard going into the festival.

Politics and Society

New laws for the high seas: four key issues the UN talks need to tackle
United Nations negotiations begin today in New York on the elements of an international agreement to govern the conservation and sustainable use of the high seas. Every country will have a seat at these inaugural negotiations on conservation beyond their borders. More than half of the world’s ocean lies outside national jurisdictions, and this vast wilderness is the legal equivalent of the Wild West.

Times demand a Sustainable Development Commission to replace the Productivity Commission
AUSTRALIA – The Paris agreement on climate and the global consensus on a comprehensive set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are signals that a business-as-usual approach to meeting 21st-century challenges is hopeless. A deep societal and economic transformation to sustainable ways of living is essential. Australia could make a good start towards this transformation by scrapping the Productivity Commission in favour of a contemporary Sustainable Development Commission with teeth. That may seem like a radical suggestion, but the case is compelling and urgent.

Three-quarters of UK children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates – survey
Three-quarters of UK children spend less time outside than prison inmates, according to a new survey revealing the extent to which time playing in parks, wood and fields has shrunk. A fifth of the children did not play outside at all on an average day, the poll found. Experts warn that active play is essential to the health and development of children, but that parents’ fears, lack of green spaces and the lure of digital technology is leading youngsters to lead enclosed lives.

Built Environment

Green Cities: what’s disruptive at home is business as usual overseas
AUSTRALIA – The annual Green Cities conference held in Sydney at the Hilton this week took “disruption” as its theme… Australian cities boast the highest liveability in the world, but what is becoming increasingly evident is that this is despite current policy settings, not due to anything particularly ground breaking we’re doing. Unfortunately, how far behind Australian cities could become was on clear display from the innovative international presenters.

This Amazing App Could Integrate Every Urban Transportation System—And Pay You Not To Drive
NextCity is a prototype transportation app that will tell you the fastest way to get around your city—and then offer you deals on transportation options that will help reduce congestion.

The small city that is blazing a resilience trail
The first “resilience strategy” for a European city aims to help turn the challenges facing Vejle, Denmark into opportunities and build its long-term capacity to survive and thrive, no matter the stresses and shocks the city experiences. Velje says its ambition is to become a “lighthouse” to “demonstrate how small cities can solve big problems and show great responsibility”.

Food Systems

The farm that grows climate change solutions
High in the mountains of Veracruz, Mexico, a small cooperative is “farming carbon” — practicing agriculture in a way that fights climate change while simultaneously meeting human needs. Although these practices are used by millions of people around the world in some way, people in Western nations are largely unfamiliar with them, and there is little coordinated support to encourage farmers to adopt them.


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