Sustainable Development News

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

Paris climate targets aren’t enough, but we can close the gap
The Paris climate agreement saw countries pledge to limit global warming to well below 2℃, and to aim to keep it within 1.5℃. The problem is that countries’ current emissions targets are not enough to meet these goals… The less effort we make before 2030, the harder it will be to reduce emissions afterwards. However, my colleagues and I have found there are several ways to close the gap.

Energy and Climate Change

WA utility to lead big switch to local generation, because it’s cheaper
AUSTRALIA – The shift from traditional centralised fossil fuel power generation to distributed renewable energy powered grids is widely accepted as a foregone conclusion by players in the global energy market. How quickly this will happen, however, is not. For energy networks like Western Australia’s Horizon Power, for example, which averages one customer every 53 square kilometres and already operates 37 microgrids ranging from 30MW peak load to 100-150kW, this future will arrive sooner, rather than later.

$200m tipped into landfill firms by government’s Direct Action dubbed a ‘waste’
AUSTRALIA – The country’s biggest operators of landfills have pocketed almost $200 million from the Abbott-Turnbull government’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) without having to prove the funds reduced their greenhouse gas production. LMS, Energy Developments and AGL were the largest beneficiaries, collecting the lion’s share of some $194.5 million of taxpayer funds handed to 39 landfill projects.

The next solar revolution could replace fossil fuels in mining
In metal production, most greenhouse gases are generated when carbon (often coal) is used to produce metal from the rocky ore. Some of this carbon is used in the actual chemical reactions, but a large proportion is just providing energy for the process. Replacing the carbon energy source with renewable or other lower-emission energy has the potential to dramatically lower the greenhouse gases associated with metal production. For example, in iron production, more than 400kg of coke and coal is use to make every tonne of iron. Using renewable energy as a heat source could reduce this carbon input by up to 30%.

Environment and Biodiversity

The Earth’s biodiversity could be much greater than we thought
Scientists have named nearly 2 million species, but the estimated total number out there has ranged from 3 million to 100 million. Consensus recently congealed around the lower end of this range, with one widely touted study proposing a precise figure of 8.7 million species (excluding bacteria strains, which are too tricky to count). If so, we’ve made sizeable inroads into cataloguing the planet’s biodiversity, with perhaps 20% done. But in correspondence published in Nature this week, we suggest this consensus may underestimate the Earth’s biodiversity by a factor of ten.

Forest degradation in Brazil can have just as drastic an impact on biodiversity as deforestation
Though reducing deforestation is the chief objective of most conservation strategies in tropical rainforest countries — and rightly so — the condition of the remaining forest is rarely measured or controlled by policy initiatives. We are therefore failing to address some of the most dire impacts of human activities on forests and biodiversity, researchers are warning.

Countries with most biodiversity spend least on conservation: study
Tropical countries that are richest in biodiversity spend the least on conservation, a new study has found. These countries tend to be poor, have weak national governance, and have different cultural values than richer temperate countries that spend more on conservation, the study published in Conservation Biology concluded. Moreover, wealthier countries that do invest conservation money in biodiversity-rich countries sometimes miss the cultural nuances in those countries, making the money simply symbolic, the researchers say. This can make conservation less effective.

UN committee may again consider listing Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’
The Great Barrier Reef could be considered again for an “in danger” listing by the United Nations World Heritage Committee following the devastating bleaching this year, the Guardian can reveal.

Oceans may become too acidic for animals to smell their way around
The oceans are becoming ever more acidic as humans pump increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. These acidic oceans will change smell molecules and render them unrecognisable for animals in the sea. Chemical communication using smell is essential for marine organisms. Its importance is comparable to the combined status of vision and hearing in humans. My latest research reveals that smell molecules in the ocean are significantly affected by ongoing ocean acidification.
See also: Thanks to CO2 emissions, the smell of the sea is changing

Climate change is disrupting seasonal behaviour of Britain’s wildlife
Climate change is disrupting the seasonal behaviour of Britain’s plants and animals, with rising temperatures having an impact on species at different levels of the food chain, new research shows. The result could be widespread “desynchronisation” between species and their phenological events – seasonal biological cycles such as breeding and migration – that could affect the functioning of entire ecosystems, according to the large-scale study published this week in the journal Nature.

Antarctica Could Lose Most of Its Penguins to Climate Change
Adélie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) have survived in Antarctica for nearly 45,000 years, adapting to glacial expansions and sea ice fluctuations driven by millennia of climatic changes. The penguins remained resilient through these changes, but new research from the University of Delaware suggests that unique 21st-century climates may pose an existential threat to many of the colonies on the Antarctic continent.

Feeling the heat of record-breaking year
Scientists are warning New Zealand’s record-breaking temperatures are causing a surge in the numbers of agricultural pests and , ongoing drought, with predictions the problem is set to get worse.

Economy and Business

Volkswagen’s $15 billion lesson on the stakes of sustainability
A $14.7 billion settlement announced yesterday for the owners of some 475,000 impacted U.S. cars. The company, once lauded for its sustainability efforts on corporate rankings like the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices, is now No. 2 on the dubious list of the costliest corporate environmental misdeeds in history behind BP’s $20 billion Gulf Oil Spill payout finalized last year… For those already immersed in corporate sustainability, however, the entire situation raises a counter-intuitive question: could the regulatory hammer dropped on VW actually be a good thing for environmentalists?

Redesigning corporates to count more than just dollars (Book Talk)
Jane Gleeson-White  is the author of the book Six Capitals: The Revolution Capitalism Has to Have – or Can Accountants Save the Planet? In it, the Sydney-based writer argues that traditional cost accounting and a focus simply on profit has to change, to take into consideration other non-financial factors such as a company’s impact on the environment. And she says accountants are the ones who are best placed to spearhead the revolution.

French MPs say they were pressured into dropping palm oil tax
In the wake of a vote by France’s lower house of parliament to scrap a proposed tax on palm oil  imports, legislators said they were “blackmailed” into the decision by top producers Indonesia and Malaysia. Union for a Popular Movement politician Nicolas Dhuicq said Indonesia had threatened France with “economic retaliation, particularly on the purchase of Airbus [aircraft] and satellites,” the French daily Le Dauphine reported. Indonesia has agreed to buy military transport planes from Airbus, one of France’s biggest companies.

Chanel, Gucci and luxury fashion’s sustainability crossroads
The world around luxury fashion is changing… It is evident that rumblings of change are underway, with sustainability and social responsibility becoming key components of luxury fashion’s landscape. Indeed, at events in Copenhagen, Hong Kong, Seoul and Versailles this spring, the fashion industry has been talking about change. The success of the sold-out Copenhagen Fashion Summit earlier this month, which focused on sustainability, also signaled this shift. With industry heavyweights in high attendance, the 1,250 delegates whispered that the event felt like the “Davos of fashion.”  But will progress be bold enough, soon enough?

HP Commits to Zero Deforestation by 2020, Other New Goals After Achieving Targets Early
Today, HP Inc. announced several new commitments with the release of its latest Sustainability Report. The company met the 20 percent emissions reduction targets it set for its operations and supply chain five years early, and set three new goals for 2020. Among these is a new zero deforestation commitment, which will involve sourcing all HP brand paper and paper-based product packaging from certified and recycled sources by 2020, with a preference for virgin fiber from certified sources of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Treasure from trash: how mining waste can be mined a second time
Mines typically follow a set path from prospecting, to development, to extraction and finally closure as the finite resources are exhausted. But does that really need to be the end of the mine’s productive life? All mines generate waste, one type of which is known as “tailings”. Often these solid wastes are stored at or near the mine site itself. Mine site rehabilitation can be expensive, and often the burden falls on the taxpayer rather than the mining company. However, this burden could be minimised if mining companies change their perception and start to view these disused materials not as waste, but as potential resources. Tailings dumps can be gold mines – literally, in some cases.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Fill Good Inc – are we close to a refill revolution?
While Boris Johnson is busy reducing the size of Europe, his father, Stanley, is appealing to Europe to help us reduce the amount of rubbish we create. This month, Environmentalists for Europe, the cross-party group co-chaired by Johnson senior, called on the EU to ban non-returnable bottles. Instead, the group said, consumers should be charged a 20p deposit, refundable when they take back the bottle. Or we should make all plastic bottles refillable.

Politics and Society

Climate change ‘most serious’ environmental issue for New Zealand – report
Climate change is the most serious environmental issue New Zealanders face, according to a new report by the Environment Commissioner. Dr Jan Wright said there was “no question” climate change was worrying and had flow-on effects, in her commentary on the government’s Environment Aotearoa 2015 report. That report had singled out rapid growth in dairy farmland and surging carbon dioxide levels as twin threats to the country’s environment. “[Climate change] will impact on the health of our sea, land, and freshwater, our unique and precious biodiversity, and our economy,” she said.

Cameron urged to ratify climate deal before quitting as PM
Prime Minister David Cameron has been urged to ratify the Paris climate agreement before leaving office. Labour’s former climate change secretary Ed Miliband said “climate sceptics” might try to derail the deal if they gained positions of power following the EU referendum. Government sources told BBC News that the Brexit vote would not alter ministers’ plans on the agreement. But the sources did not offer any firm timetable for its ratification either.

After 6 years of working on climate at Harvard, I implore it to show the courage to divest
One morning in the summer of 2014, I found myself in the city of Tacloban in the Philippines. The city and surrounding area had been devastated less than a year earlier by Super Typhoon Yolanda. Thousands had been killed; bodies were found for months afterwards.  As part of an international research collaboration, I was interviewing government officials and others throughout the Philippines to assess how to improve preparedness for and response to climate-related disasters…

Built Environment

3 ways cities can overcome barriers to energy efficiency
Cities have more potential than ever to implement significant enhancements in energy efficiency, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions at a time when climate change risk tops global agendas. However, urban areas in the United States face major impediments to some of the most effective energy-saving strategies. Overcoming these will require a coordinated effort between government, industry and civil society.

ReGen Villages: Behind the Design of Self-Sustaining Eco-Communities
ReGen Villages is a tech-integrated real estate development company with purpose. The Dutch holding company, in collaboration with Danish architecture firm EFFEKT, was founded by serial entrepreneur James Ehrlich, who describes his brand as “engineering and facilitating the development of off-grid, integrated and resilient neighbourhoods that power and feed self-reliant families around the world.”

The first Regen Village is scheduled to open this summer in Almere, The Netherlands, with 100 homes. | Images credit: EFFEKT

The first Regen Village is scheduled to open this summer in Almere, The Netherlands, with 100 homes. | Images credit: EFFEKT

Food Systems

Australia leading the world in access to sustainably-caught tuna
A partnership between Pacific Island nations means Australia is now leading the world in the availability of sustainably-caught tinned tuna on supermarket shelves… The eight nations that own the Pacific fishery (the PNA group) have spearheaded their own wild-caught FAD-free tuna logo called Pasifical. In an historic move last year John West Australia started selling Pasifical tuna, certified by the globally-recognised gold-standard certification body, the Marine Stewardship Council.


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