Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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The Anthropocene epoch: scientists declare dawn of human-influenced age
Humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared, according to an official expert group who presented the recommendation to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town on Monday. The new epoch should begin about 1950, the experts said, and was likely to be defined by the radioactive elements dispersed across the planet by nuclear bomb tests, although an array of other signals, including plastic pollution, soot from power stations, concrete, and even the bones left by the global proliferation of the domestic chicken were now under consideration.

Energy and Climate Change

Climate breakthrough: grass logs carbon emissions from power plants
We may not know it, but our carbon sins are being logged.  The tiny characters taking notes are silent but faithful scribes on climate change, and they outnumber all of us.  Scientists have found a way to use grass near power plants as a way of revealing the level of carbon dioxide they churn out.

Australia readies for big solar boom as PV costs continue fall
Australia is poised to experience its biggest ever boom in large-scale solar construction over the next year as a range of international market factors and local policy incentives take hold. A number of factors are pointing to a major investment push to large-scale solar, a boom that has been a long time in the making but is now ticking nearly all the investment boxes.

World first for Shetlands in tidal power breakthrough
UK – Nova Innovation said it had deployed the world’s first fully operational array of tidal power turbines in the Bluemull Sound between the islands of Unst and Yell in the north of Shetland, where the North Sea meets the Atlantic.  It switched on the second of five 100kW turbines due to be installed in the sound this month, sending electricity on a commercial basis into Shetland’s local grid.

Environment and Biodiversity

Scientists have identified a key way the Amazon’s forests may adapt to climate change
The Amazon is famous for being one of the most diverse places on Earth — its forests are home to tens of thousands of plant species alone. And now, scientists are claiming that all of these different plants may be key to the Amazon’s survival during future climate change.   A new study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, suggests more diverse forests are better at adapting to the changing climate. Using a model that simulates tree growth in the Amazon, the researchers found that as climate change causes some trees to die off, other plants in the forest — more suited to the new conditions — can grow in to take their place. In these cases, the composition of the forest does change, but it’s able to at least partially recover the amount of vegetation it had before.

Ocean between NZ and Australia a climate change “hotspot”
The ocean between New Zealand and Australia is one of the fastest-warming ocean regions on the planet, heating up at four times the global average. Now scientists are working to understand what this accelerated warming in what’s called the East Australia Current means for the coastal environments of both countries and their resident marine species.

Drones capture incredible whale pictures
An international team of researchers aboard Otago University’s research vessel RV Polaris II last week returned from a month-long voyage to the wild and windy Auckland Islands, 465km south of Stewart Island. The team sought to gauge the status of right whales, which breed at Port Ross, and gain a deeper insight into how a warming world was affecting one of the most sensitive parts of the globe.

Drones were used to capture these images of Southern right whales near the sub-antarctic Auckland Islands. Photo: supplied

Drones were used to capture these images of Southern right whales near the sub-antarctic Auckland Islands. Photo: supplied

Bringing back the devil
AUSTRALIA – Picture this: you’re walking through the bush down at the Prom when a Tasmanian devil, a growling, grunting ball of muscle all swathed in black gambols across the trail in front of you. Or unsettling night noises make you wonder what devilish creature lurks out beyond the circle of light cast by your campfire. It would be the ultimate double-take, at once unnerving and thrilling. If conservationists have their way, such scenes might also be a vision of the future.

The biologist terrifying the US Forest Service and the timber and forest fire-fighting industries
USA – Monica Bond is a wildlife biologist who has spent the past 15 years becoming an expert on spotted owls and forest fires. Earlier this month, she published a paper summarizing all existing science about what happens to spotted owls when forests burn, in the hope of averting a major US forest management policy mistake.

Economy and Business

Release of climate bond emissions trajectories set to boost green building investment
AUSTRALIA – Investors can put money in green buildings and be assured they’re helping to meet global climate change targets, following the release of emissions performance trajectories for Australian commercial buildings by the Climate Bonds Initiative. The trajectories, available for commercial buildings in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra, were set by examining the emissions performance of the top 15 per cent of buildings in their respective markets, then determining a trajectory required to get to net zero emissions by 2050.

Queensland sugar miller’s expansion plans raise environmental concerns
AUSTRALIA – Multi-million-dollar expansion plans for one Queensland sugar miller have come under fire from environmentalists. MSF Sugar’s plans to progress its growth into the biofutures space at its Fraser Coast operations have caused some to raise concerns about extra sediment and nutrient runoff. The announcement to progress MSF’s expansion was announced last week, with two parcels of land identified as possible sites for cane crops.

Coca-Cola and its bottlers ‘replenish’ all the water they use
The Coca-Cola Company, which uses about 300 billion liters of water a year — a quantity so big it’s as if every person on earth donated 40 liters of the shared resource of water to its operations —  announced today that it reached a goal it set a decade ago: To “replenish” or restore the equivalent quantity of all the water it uses in a year in its global operations to produce, bottle and sell Coke, Sprite, Fanta, Minute Maid orange juice and hundreds of other beverages.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Australian communities are fighting food waste with circular economies
Around 4 million tonnes of food reaches landfill in Australia each year. This forms part of Australia’s organic waste, the country’s largest unrecovered stream of waste that goes into landfill… Simply disposing of waste in landfill affects households, businesses and governments. It requires time, energy and space, and poses environmental risks. When waste is repurposed for energy and fertiliser, it can give businesses a competitive edge, foster sustainable growth and create jobs.

Politics and Society

Want to improve NAPLAN scores? Teach children philosophy
The National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) is an annual assessment designed to check whether students are developing the basic skills necessary to progress in school and life. The most recent report reveals that nationally, these skills have largely stagnated since 2008… As it turns out, teaching children philosophy can dramatically increase student learning outcomes in literacy and numeracy.

Q&A with Dr Helen Taylor: Why we need more science in our lives
Are we hearing enough from our scientists? Why is it so important that our academics and researchers make an effort to share their work with us – and what fears and struggles do they face in doing so? One of New Zealand’s emerging “science communicators”, Otago University post-doctoral researcher Dr Helen Taylor, recently scooped a competition in which she simplified her work in a 180-second video.

Holoscenes: Lars Jan’s 3,500-gallon warning to humanity
For years the Los Angeles-based artist Lars Jan was haunted by an image he just couldn’t shake: “A man is turning the pages of a newspaper and slowly the room fills with water. Rather than reacting like there’s anything out of the ordinary, he just keeps on turning the pages until water rises over his head, the paper is submerged and the pages disintegrate in his hands.”

Jan’s Holocenes, in which performers act out menial tasks while a chamber gradually fills up with water, is a stark warning of the effects of climate change on rising sea levels. Photograph: Lars Jan

Jan’s Holocenes, in which performers act out menial tasks while a chamber gradually fills up with water, is a stark warning of the effects of climate change on rising sea levels. Photograph: Lars Jan

Australian Conservation Foundation loses Federal Court case on Adani coal
Adani’s Carmichael coal mine has cleared another legal hurdle after the Federal Court threw out a challenge against the project by the Australian Conservation Foundation. The ACF had sought to establish a landmark climate change case in Australia, arguing approval of the proposed mega coal mine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin was inconsistent with the country’s international obligations to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Climate sceptic MP appointed chair of environment and energy committee
AUSTRALIA – The climate sceptic Liberal MP Craig Kelly has been appointed chairman of the backbench environment and energy committee, with National party MP Kevin Hogan as secretary. The committee will provide feedback on legislation and policies relating to the environment and energy, including to the minister, Josh Frydenberg.

Coastal councils are already adapting to rising seas – we’ve built a website to help
AUSTRALIA – CSIRO projections suggest that seas may rise by as much 82cm by the end of the century. When added to high tides, and with the influence of winds and associated storms, this can mean inundation by waters as high as a couple of metres. As a community, we have to start deciding what must be protected, and how and when; where we will let nature take its course; how and if we need to modify the way we live and work near the coast; and so on. Many of these decisions fall largely to local governments.

California has urged President Obama and Congress to tax carbon pollution
Last week, the California state senate passed Assembly Joint Resolution 43, urging the federal government to pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax… Copies of the Resolution were sent to President Obama, Vice President Biden, House Speaker Ryan, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, and to all members of Congress representing California. The document specifically calls for the type of revenue-neutral carbon tax advocated by the grassroots organization Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Studies have shown that a rising carbon tax with all revenue returned to taxpayers would have a modestly beneficial impact on the economy, while cutting carbon pollution at faster rates than current policies.

Food Systems

Climate change could cut coffee production up to 50pc by 2050, report shows
Coffee production could be cut by up to 50 per cent in a few decades because of the effects of climate change, a report has found. The coffee industry is worth $19 billion worldwide, with more than 2.25 billion cups of coffee consumed every day and nearly half of all Australians drinking coffee regularly. But the report, A Brewing Storm, showed unless action was taken, the effects of climate change would result in supply shortages and increased prices.

One of the World’s Biggest Fisheries Is on The Verge of Collapse
PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines—Years ago Christopher Tubo caught a 660-pound blue marlin in the South China Sea. The fishing was good there, he says. Tuna fishermen would come home from a trip with dozens of the high-value fish as well as a good haul of other species. “Here there’s none of that,” he says, looking toward the Sulu Sea, the Philippine sea where he’s been fishing for the past four years. His two boats, traditional Filipino outriggers called bancas, float in the shallow water nearby, new coats of white paint drying in the sun.


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