Sustainable Development News

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

Cans, bottles, now shells? Mussel recycling gives Port Phillip Bay …. muscle
VIC, AUSTRALIA – These days bottles, cans, newspapers, printer cartridges, even mobile phones, can be recycled. Now it seems shells can be added to the list. For about a year kitchen staff at the Little Creatures brewery in Geelong have been keeping discarded shells from the plates of mussels they sell to hungry customers. The shells are destined to find their way to the bottom of Port Phillip Bay as part of a landmark environmental project to recreate lost shellfish reefs and boost habitat for the bay’s marine wildlife.

Energy and Climate Change

Arctic sea ice extent breaks record low for winter
A record expanse of Arctic sea never froze over this winter and remained open water as a season of freakishly high temperatures produced deep – and likely irreversible – changes on the far north. Scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre said on Monday that the sea ice cover attained an average maximum extent of 14.52m sq km (5.607m sq miles) on 24 March, the lowest winter maximum since records began in 1979.

Ban new wind turbines? Not if the bar for declaring them safe is impossibly high
AUSTRALIA – The debate about wind farms is clearly not over yet. Last week Australia’s National Heath and Medical Research Council awarded A$3.3 million to fund two new health studies: one to measure the effect of infrasound on sleep quality, balance, mood and cardiovascular health; the other to determine whether low-frequency sound from wind farms can disrupt sleeping patterns. Given the past few years of prickly wind turbine politics, this has predictably caused quite a stir.

China will triple solar PV capacity by 2020
China will triple its solar photovoltaic generation capacity by 2020, and is aiming for a total of 143 gigawatts, according to the country’s National Energy Administration.

Study Questions China’s CO2 Emissions Dip
China’s greenhouse gas emissions are on a downward trajectory, but its emissions may not have fallen quite as much over the past two years as the Chinese government and the International Energy Agency have suggested. That’s the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, which says China’s emissions may have actually increased in 2014, rather than fallen.

Rooftop solar could provide nearly half of US electricity demand
A major new study has significantly lifted the potential of rooftop solar PV in the United States, saying rooftop solar alone could provide 40 per cent of all the electricity needs of the world’s biggest economy, and around half if module efficiencies continued to improve. The study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory says the estimated potential from rooftop solar has been revised upwards by more than 80 per cent since the last study in 2008, mostly because of improvements of module efficiencies, building availability and solar modelling.

Has Victoria’s moment in the sun finally arrived?
AUSTRALIA – Despite a decade of promises and plans from governments, policy uncertainty and project collapses has meant very little has materialised but now a handful of proposed Victorian projects are again on the table.

After 115 years, Scotland is coal-free
After some 115 years, Scotland has burned its last lump of coal for electricity. The Longannet power station, the last and largest coal-fired power plant in Scotland, ceased operations last Thursday. What once was the largest coal plant in Europe shut down after 46 years before the eyes of workers and journalists, who gathered in the main control room.

Jets v the jet stream
Flights from Britain to the US could take longer in future because of climate change. The jet stream is expected to become more powerful as the climate warms, and that means flights to America battling against fiercer headwinds… the effect of a powerful jet stream was brought home in a remarkable flight in January last year, when a British Airways flight from New York to London reached 745mph, near supersonic speed, by riding on an exceptionally fast jet stream of around 250mph.

How much do you know about the world’s extreme weather challenges? Take the quiz
From coffee shortages to Leonardo DiCaprio’s filming nightmares, put your extreme weather knowledge to the test

Environment and Biodiversity

How Our Favorite Fish Could Recover in a Decade
After decades of declines, most of the world’s fish populations could recover in just ten years, while fishermen make more money at the same time, scientists reported in a new study published Monday. The solution is for more countries to adopt systems for sharing rights to harvesting fish, which have been effective in a handful of countries, including the U.S. and Belize.  “I’ve spent my career working on fisheries issues and I did not expect such a dramatic finding,” says Amanda Leland, a co-author of the study in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.\

Predator plagues and the ongoing battle to save New Zealand’s native birds
As the Department of Conservation gears up for another large pest-control operation Samantha Gee finds out if the last one worked and what the future of predator control looks like.

Velvetleaf found in 125 hectares of Manawatu-Whanganui farmland
NEW ZEALAND – One of the world’s worst cropping weeds has been found in 125 hectares of Manawatu-Whanganui farmland. Velvetleaf, considered one of the world’s most damaging cropping weeds was found on a farm in Matamata earlier this month, sparking a nationwide search initiated by the Ministry for Primary Industries. Velvetleaf is a serious pest weed overseas; damaging crops by competing with them for nutrients and water. It is also an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act, meaning its entry to New Zealand is prohibited.

Economy and Business

100 days from the Paris Agreement: news roundup
The first 100 days of a new administration are often seen as the first landmark moment for reflection and consideration of what the future may hold, looking at the signals given in the first crucial decisions. 100 days since the historic Paris Agreement, this process of reflection and analysis is well underway. Commentators and analysts are weighing up the early impact of the agreement, and the actions taken so far by governments, businesses, investors and civil society across the world. We have selected the top stories from the last three months that give an early indication of where the global economy may be heading as a result of the first universal climate deal.

Is a global aviation emissions deal quietly being prepped for takeoff?
Could September see the delivery of the second historic international climate change deal in less than 12 months? That is the hope shared by a growing band of businesses and NGOs who are increasingly optimistic the Paris Agreement could be followed later this year by a long-awaited deal to tackle aviation emissions.

BRICS bank to launch $384m green bonds
The BRICS development bank will bond issue green bonds worth up to $384 million to raise funds for renewable energy projects, according to media reports.

“Let My People Go Surfing” – 8 philosophies from Patagonia for your business
“Let My People Go Surfing” by Yvon Chouinard is the story of US outdoor clothing and equipment company Patagonia, long regarded as a global pioneer in sustainability. Ahead of its time, Patagonia has always put purpose before profit and has remained true to its values, despite phenomenal growth. Core to Patagonia’s success are eight philosophies, which are an expression of the company’s values.

Rick Ridgeway: why business might be the world’s best hope
The business sector can be an enormous agent for change, Patagonia’s vice president of public engagement Rick Ridgeway says. And it might be the best hope we have of saving the planet. Ridgeway was in Australia last week for a business summit held in Melbourne, where he told leaders from some of Australia’s largest firms that a reintroduction of a carbon price is inevitable.

Regenerative Business, Phase One: Discerning a Living, Structured Whole and Avoiding ‘Part’ Thinking
The idea of Regeneration has a very long history of practice; it comes out of the concept of Living Systems Thinking. Charles Krone, one of the pioneers of Procter & Gamble’s revolutionary work design, developed something called ‘framework thinking,’ which promotes the ability to see wholes at work. The one used here he called Levels of Work, employed by all P&G Soap employees to understand markets, customers and even soap-making, as a living process.

A new Titanic? US and Canada prepare for worst as luxury Arctic cruise sets sail
On 13 April, coast guard officials from the US and Canada will train for a cruise ship catastrophe: a mass rescue from a luxury liner on its maiden voyage through the remote and deathly cold waters between the Northwest Passage and the Bering Strait. The prospect of just such a disaster occurring amid the uncharted waters and capricious weather of the Arctic is becoming all too real.  The loss of Arctic sea ice cover, due to climate change, has spurred a sharp rise in shipping traffic – as well as coast guard rescue missions – and increased the risks of oil spills, shipping accidents, and pollution, much to the apprehension of native communities who make their living on the ice.

Waste and the Circular Economy

GM, Johnson Controls teach G7 about circular economy thinking
When finance ministers from the G7, the world’s biggest industrial democracies, took up the circular economy in recent months, it became clear the concept has some economic heft. The G7 deals in economic emergencies.  Given that more than half of all raw material inputs to industry wind up as waste in a year’s time, and given that those inputs are on a trajectory to grow 35 percent in the next 15 years, it’s clearly important: We are going to run out.

Breakthrough research could see CO2 used to make sustainable concrete
Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles have found a way to turn carbon dioxide emissions from power plants into a novel building material that could replace concrete. The closed-loop process involves carbon dioxide being captured from the smokestacks of power plants and used to create a new building material named CO2NCRETE, which would be fabricated using 3D printers.

Avoiding Greenwashing: 10 Principles of Truly Sustainable Packaging Design
The viability of true sustainability is a complex economic challenge, and the ugly truth is that very few consumers, brand owners or municipalities are willing to pay the premium price for cutting-edge, sustainable packaging solutions. True solutions will come through systems thinking, which requires the material suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, consumers and municipalities to share in the premium costs and labor required to design, collect, and recycle packaging materials.  Over time, sustainable materials will become more available and thus less costly — but what to do now?

Refunds recommended for returned drink bottles and cans
NEW ZEALAND – People could get money for recycling drink bottles and cans if an idea from Palmerston North gets backing. Deposit and refund schemes to encourage consumers to recycle glass, aluminium and plastic drink containers are being advocated by the Palmerston North City Council. The council on Tuesday voted to promote a remit to Local Government New Zealand asking the Government to develop and implement a scheme.

Politics and Society

Insecure jobs and incomes carry risk of radicalisation for young Indonesian workers
The world’s most-populous Muslim country is facing a revival of radical jihadi groups, as indicated by the Islamic State-linked attacks in Jakarta in January. In late February, Australia released a travel warning for Indonesia, citing possible terrorist attacks. The Indonesian parliament is looking to amend its counter-terrorism laws in April. But aside from a law-enforcement approach to countering terrorism, the Indonesian government should tackle underlying social and economic problems that increase the risk of radicalisation among young people.

The explosion of countryside TV helping treat our ‘nature deficit disorder’
UK – Last month, BBC1’s Countryfile achieved its highest ratings ever. A whopping 8.7 million live viewers tuned in on 7 February, making it the most popular programme on British television that week (beating War & Peace, Six Nations rugby and Call the Midwife). Countryfile’s figures just keep rising, from an already-impressive average of 5.9 million viewers a week in 2014 and 6.2 million in 2015. So what is it about countryside telly that has the nation gripped?

Why people come together in community energy projects
Policymakers worldwide are looking for ways to detect and solve public opposition. They offer financial stakes and try to play down impacts – but studies repeatedly find no empirical evidence, say, that placing wind turbines further from buildings increases acceptance (PDF in German). As that study puts it, “It’s not enough to want to win over residents by providing them with information early on. Instead, people need to be able to participate early on – and have real input.”

Community Fruit Harvesting
NEW ZEALAND – At this time of year our fruit trees are groaning, but it can be a tall order to gather the harvest before it falls. Coming to the rescue are Community Fruit Harvesting groups – regionally organised bunches of fruit-picking volunteers, who are especially busy at this time of year.

Hikoi petitioning for ‘swimmable’ rivers meets MPs outside Parliament
NEW ZEALAND – Environment Minister Nick Smith says he wants to make more New Zealand rivers clean enough to swim in. But he will not commit to making every single waterway in New Zealand “swimmable” because it would be too complex and costly. The minister today received a 12,000-signature petition from student-led conservation group Choose Clean Water, which led a hikoi of around 100 people to the steps of Parliament.

Tax office ruling provides big boost for electric vehicles in Australia
An Australian Tax Office ruling has provided a major boost to the economics of electric vehicles in Australia, just as enthusiasts prepare to queue up to register interest to buy the first mass-market electric vehicle to be offered in serious volume in this country. The ATO ruling means that drivers of electric vehicles will be able to claim the same deductions for business use as they currently do for cars running on internal combustion engines.

Built Environment

Modular construction could unlock potential of industrial hemp
The development of a modular construction method for industrial hemp could see it replace the low-performing, high-embodied energy materials used in the walls, floors and ceilings of large-scale Australian residential and commercial buildings. Envirotecture director and Australian Hemp Masonry Company board member Dick Clarke said industrial hemp was “very applicable to all building types and building scales” with its low-embodied energy, carbon sequestration abilities, excellent insulation properties and ability to handle humidity.

Food Systems

Will global warming make you fat?
First it was fats, then it was carbs, but one day we might be blaming climate change for our expanding waistlines. Climate change is already affecting Australia’s ability to reliably produce quality food. With climate records being broken on a monthly basis, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine our relatively easy access to fresh produce becoming a thing of the past. We all know what we should be eating to stay healthy: less fat and sugar, more fresh fruit, veggies and lean protein. Eating sustainably isn’t all that different. Stop eating so many of the cows that burp and fart methane into the atmosphere and try to eat more locally sourced, plant-based produce.

No garden? Five creative ways city dwellers can still grow their own
With more people than ever living in cities, how do we reconcile our need for fresh fruit and vegetables with the challenges of life in an urban environment where the time and space for gardening are limited? Thankfully, there are many ways to grow your own fresh produce in the city, which go beyond the traditional solution of the allotment. Here are just five.

Environmental educator embarks on seed saving documentary campaign
NEW ZEALAND – A Golden Bay environmental educator is fundraising to produce her second documentary about the art and skill of seed saving. Permaculture expert Robina McCurdy said in a world of increasingly rapid global ownership and scientific tampering of seeds it was pertinent to start growing “local food resilience” now.


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