Sustainable Development News

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

The world passes 400ppm carbon dioxide threshold. Permanently
In the centuries to come, history books will likely look back on September 2016 as a major milestone for the world’s climate. At a time when atmospheric carbon dioxide is usually at its minimum, the monthly value failed to drop below 400 parts per million (ppm). That all but ensures that 2016 will be the year that carbon dioxide officially passed the symbolic 400 ppm mark, never to return below it in our lifetimes, according to scientists.

Photograph: Scripps Institute of Oceanography Mauna Loa Observatory/Climate Central

Photograph: Scripps Institute of Oceanography Mauna Loa Observatory/Climate Central

Energy and Climate Change

Obama’s climate change legacy at stake as Clean Power Plan has its day in court
The future of the US’s centerpiece plan to tackle climate change hangs in the balance following nearly seven hours of legal argument over whether it tramples upon the right of states to allow carbon pollution. Power utilities and business groups have joined 27 states in challenging the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which would be the single largest tool in cutting greenhouse gas emissions to help avoid dangerous climate change.

Australia’s west, south losing vital rain as climate change shifts winds, study finds
Rising greenhouse gases and ozone depletion over the Antarctic are increasingly pushing rain-bearing storm fronts away from Australia’s west and south, according to a new international study. The research, which involved the Australian National University and 16 other institutions from around the world, has just been published in the Nature Climate Change journal.

SA power outage: how did it happen?
South Australia and its 1.677 million residents were left without power on Wednesday evening following severe storms.  So have recent events and a focus on renewable energy created the ‘perfect storm’ for a state-wide blackout? SA Premier Jay Weatherill has confirmed severe weather destroyed a piece of infrastructure, a transmission tower, during the storm which led to the power-system protecting itself with a shutdown.
See also: South Australia blacked out and crazy hail hits in ‘worst storm in decades’

Carnegie gets $2.5m ARENA funds for wave-based micro-grid
Perth-based wave energy developer Carnegie Wave Energy says it has been awarded a $2.5 million in funds from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to help fund what it says will be the world’s first microgram project combining wave energy, solar and battery storage.

Environment and Biodiversity

Grass food crops facing climate change challenge
A study has highlighted the risk posed by projected climate change on the world’s ability to grow enough food. A US team of researchers found that forecasted shifts in climate by 2070 would occur too quickly for species of grass to adapt to the new conditions.  The species facing an uncertain future include wheat, corn, rice and sorghum, which provide almost half of the calories consumed by humans. The findings appear in the Royal Society Biology Letter journal.

Pangolins thrown a lifeline at global wildlife summit with total trade ban
Cites, Johannesburg – Pangolins, the world’s most illegally trafficked mammal, were thrown a lifeline at a global wildlife summit on Wednesday with a total trade ban in all species.  More than a million wild pangolins have been killed in the last decade, to feed the huge and rising appetite in China and Vietnam for its meat and its scales, a supposed medicine. The unique scaly anteaters are fast heading for extinction in Asia and poachers are now plundering Africa.

More than 1 million wild pangolins have been killed in the last decade. Photograph: Paul Hilton/WCS

More than 1 million wild pangolins have been killed in the last decade. Photograph: Paul Hilton/WCS

Total trade ban for Gibraltar’s monkeys agreed
Cites, Johannesburg – Europe’s only non-human primate, the Barbary Macaque, has gained the highest level of species protection at the Cites meeting in Johannesburg. While about 200 live safely on the Rock of Gibraltar, they are experiencing rapid decline in their natural habitats in North Africa. Hundreds of infants are illegally taken from the wild each year for European pet markets. Countries banned any form of trade in the species.

Missing data puts thousands of illegally traded wild animals at risk
Data on illegal wildlife trade collected by enforcement agencies is riddled with gaps, concludes a new report by the University of Oxford Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and World Animal Protection. Between 2010 and 2014, more than 64,000 live wild animals belonging to 359 species were seized by authorities, according to the trade database of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). But only 54 countries party to the CITES reported seizures, researchers found, while 128 countries did not report any illegal wildlife trade, researchers write in the report published in Nature Conservation.

Wildlife butchers of Belén: the town that serves up rare species for a few dollars
Where a confluence of rivers meet the Peruvian city of Iquitos, the world’s largest city to be inaccessible by road, lies Belén, a partially floating shanty town and market where endangered monkeys change hands for a few dollars and wildlife traffickers take orders to stock informal zoos or private collections with the abundant fauna from the world’s largest rainforest. Wildlife is part of the town’s daily trade. A ban on selling bushmeat is openly ignored in Belén’s market.

Field Notes: Can we alter endangered species to be more adaptable?
Endangered species often don’t reproduce well in captivity or when reintroduced to the wild. Researcher Stephanie Courtney Jones believes that by studying the “pesty” traits that help invasive species reproduce well, and to be successful in multiple habitats, we might be able to help endangered species do the same.

Garden ponds ‘playing role’ in frog disease spread
Garden ponds are playing a role in the spread of deadly frog diseases across the UK, a study suggests. Ranaviruses can infect amphibians, reptiles and fish. In the UK, they have devastated common frog populations. This research suggests that the introduction of infected animals from aquatic retailers into ponds or moving species between different ponds may be exacerbating the problem. The findings are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Christmas taonga returns home
NEW ZEALAND – Returning a Ngaati Hikairo taonga [treasure] back to the heart of Tongariro Forest marked an important milestone for a kiwi nesting programme. Weighing more than 1kg and big enough to fight off stoats, Mighty Dash was released back home on Friday. The special occasion also marked the 1500 kiwi hatched at Rainbow Springs Kiwi Encounter.

Watch NZH Focus: Subdivision or wildlife reserve?
NEW ZEALAND – Thirty-seven hectares of native bush and wetlands are up for grabs in Bethell’s Valley west of Auckland, and local environmentalists are keen to buy it and connect Matuku Reserve, the Habitat Tahini project and the Ark in the Park. John Staniland manages the Matuku Reserve and is leading the campaign to save the ‘Matuku Link’… Wetlands are the most endangered habitat in New Zealand and the Matuku Link is part of the largest wetland in the Auckland region. John has identified rare endangered native birds in the area.

The Matuku Link Givealittle page is –

Eastern quolls edge closer to extinction – but it’s not too late to save them
Eastern quolls – small, fleet-footed and ferocious – are one of Australia’s few surviving marsupial predators. They were once so common in southeast Australia that when Europeans arrived the quolls were reportedly hyperabundant. But by the 1960s they were extinct on the mainland, driven down by a combination of disease, poisoning, persecution and predation. Despite their mainland demise, eastern quolls continued to thrive in Tasmania – until recently. Across Tasmania, quoll numbers declined by more than 50% in the 10 years to 2009 and show no sign of recovery.

Economy and Business

The ‘Uberisation’ of work is driving people to co-operatives
Co-operatives and new platforms that offer workers equity or customers a “purpose” are growing in number. One example is Canadian firm Stocksy, which brings together more than 900 photographers and redistributes 90% of profits to the artists… These innovative co-operative startups are up against corporations with deep pockets. But they can build on the much broader worker co-operative movement, which emerged in the mid to late 19th century as a response to increasing pressure from changing market structures.

Pay rates, insurance and superannuation: who’s in charge of the gig economy?
It is issues such as workers’ compensation, as well as minimum rates of pay and superannuation, that are behind the decision by Unions NSW, an Australian state union body, to consider a test case against Airtasker. The essence of the case is whether workers who find jobs on Airtasker are independent contractors, running their own businesses, or are really disguised employees.

Innovative tax credit takes aim at deforestation in Peru
A new $88 million line of credit promises to help small shareholders in San Martin, Peru to increase production of the region’s seven largest resources. Last week, the Global Canopy Programme (GCP) with CEDISA and Agrobanco signed a Memorandum of Understanding to will help coffee, cocoa, palm oil, palm hearts, rice, sacha inchi and aquaculture shareholders with competitive rates and technical assistance. The biggest producer of rice and coffee in Peru, the San Martin region is also home to a number of key agricultural products including palm oil, palm hearts, cocoa, and sacha inchi. The production of these resources and the general expansion of agriculture are closely linked to Peruvian deforestation.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Waste to power 10,000 UK homes
The world’s largest waste-to-biogas conversion plant is set to open in the UK, which plans to use advanced enzyme technology to handle waste. The project is run by Danish energy company, Dong Energy, and the REnescience plant is set to open next Spring in Northwich, north-west England. The energy conversion process will work by separating organic matter such as paper and foods from other waste streams and then “washing” it free of contaminants using enzymes in a giant reactor

Politics and Society

How Human Violence Stacks Up Against Other Killer Animals
Humans inherited a propensity for violence from our primate ancestors, a new study says, making it easy to think, “Ah, see—we really are just animals.” But that doesn’t give animals enough credit. The first humans were about as violent as could be expected based on their family tree, researchers report September 28 in the journal Nature. The scientists pored through examples of lethal violence—not animals killing other species, such as predators and prey, but killings within a species, whether by cannibalism, infanticide, or aggression.

Richell prize: Susie Greenhill wins literary award for ‘ecological love story’ (Book Talk)
An “ecological love story” is not a common genre, but this is how Susie Greenhill, winner of this year’s Richell prize, sees her novel The Clinking… Michaela McGuire, a judge of the prize and the director of the Emerging writers’ festival, described Greenhill’s writing as “electric, and profoundly affecting”. The Clinking explores themes of extinction, grief and interconnection against the backdrop of a warming climate, through the eyes of a scientist watching “the world he loves and knows intimately disappearing around him”.

Frydenberg continues attack on state-based renewable targets
AUSTRALIA – Most Labor states and territories have announced, or already implemented, much longer dated and more ambitious renewable energy policies than the federal government, but are coming under attack from the Coalition, fossil fuel lobby groups and some think tanks for “going it alone”. Frydenberg on Wednesday used a new report from the Grattan Institute, a leading critic of state-based targets, to renew its attack on the schemes, which it says will add costs and stop investment.

Built Environment

What is wellbeing, and can we design for it?
Wellbeing is fast becoming one of the hottest buzzwords in design. With the release of numerous reports and tools from groups such as the International Well Building Institute, World Green Building Council and Terrapin Bright Green, it’s been suggested that in 2016 buildings will go from being green to being good for you. However, is this really the case? While it sounds like a worthy aspiration, can we truly design buildings and places that bring out the best in people?

Paris riverbank traffic banned
French capital Paris has voted for the ban of vehicles on the road running along the right bank of the river Seine. The decision, although contested, was called a historic decision by Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and the “end of the urban motorway in Paris and the reconquest of the Seine”.

New York City accelerates emissions efforts in face of daunting sea level rise
New York City has set out a plan to quicken its pace of decarbonization in order to meet its emissions reduction target, as the metropolis prepares for a daunting sea level rise due to climate change. The proposals state that New York “must accelerate efforts” to expand renewable energy generation, improve the energy efficiency of buildings, transition to electric vehicles and improve waste management in order to meet its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050, based on 2005 levels.

Food Systems

A revolution disguised as organic gardening: in memory of Bill Mollison
It is with great sadness that I acknowledge the passing of Bill Mollison on Saturday, September 24 (1928-2016). He was one of the true pioneers of the modern environmental movement, not just in Australia but globally. Best known as co-originator of the “permaculture” concept with David Holmgren, and recipient of the Right Livelihood Award in 1981, Mollison helped develop a holistic body of environmental theory and practice which is widely recognised as one of Australia’s finest and most original contributions to the global sustainability challenge.

Trendy foods should come with a recipe for sustainability
The soft creamy flesh of a ripe avocado makes an attractive and healthy addition to many of our shopping baskets. Smashed, crushed or sliced on toast for a celebrity chef breakfast, it is a fruit which is savoured across the world. But it seems that avocados may not be as green as they look. And their trendy status may be environmentally unsustainable. Their popularity has led to profitable opportunities for farmers, leading to major environmental concerns about production causing deforestation in Mexico, a nation that produces 30% of the 4.7m tonnes harvested globally.

Why ShopRite and Compass Group have a taste for urban farming
Will the U.S. urban agricultural movement become mainstream? It’s certainly about to garner far more visibility, thanks to legislation proposed this week by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a ranking member on the Senate’s committee for Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Her bill, dubbed the Urban Agriculture Act of 2016, would expand the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s support for farm cooperatives in metropolitan areas, make it simpler for farmers running rooftop gardens or vertical farms to apply for USDA programs and fund research into new water and energy technologies that might accelerate adoption.


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