Sustainable Development News

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

We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can ‘reset’ Earth’s damaged ecosystems
Earth is in a land degradation crisis. If we were to take the roughly one-third of the world’s land that has been degraded from its natural state and combine it into a single entity, these “Federated States of Degradia” would have a landmass bigger than Russia and a population of more than 3 billion, largely consisting of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people. The extent and impact of land degradation have prompted many nations to propose ambitious targets for fixing the situation – restoring the wildlife and ecosystems harmed by processes such as desertification, salinisation and erosion, but also the unavoidable loss of habitat due to urbanisation and agricultural expansion.

Energy and Climate Change

G7 nations pledge to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2025
The G7 nations have for the first time set a deadline for the ending most fossil fuel subsidies, saying government support for coal, oil and gas should end by 2025. The leaders of the UK, US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the European Union encouraged all countries to join them in eliminating “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” within a decade.

La Trobe University’s fossil fuel divestment: a small, but significant step
La Trobe University this week became the first Australian university to commit to full fossil fuel divestment, having pledged to do so over the next five years. This is the result of campaigning by staff and students at university campuses. The university holds an investment of A$40 million in a managed fund. Over the next five years it will work with the fund manager to create a portfolio that does not invest in the 200 most carbon-intensive listed companies.

Meteorologists are seeing global warming’s effect on the weather
My company, AerisWeather, tracks global weather for Fortune 500 companies trying to optimize supply chains, increase profitability, secure facilities, and ensure the safety of their employees and customers… If I spin the data and only see what I want to see, I go out of business. I lay off good people. I can’t afford to look away when data makes me uncomfortable. I was initially skeptical of man-made climate change, but by the late 1990s I was witnessing the apparent symptoms of a warming climate. They were showing up on my weather map with greater frequency and ferocity.

Australia’s top solar states and suburbs
Rooftop solar is becoming as “common as insulation” in some parts of Australia, a new report has found, with 14 suburbs now recording penetration above 50 per cent, and many others recording uptake far above their state’s average, sometimes as high as 65 per cent.

Repower Three raises $143k in one week for NSW community solar
Community energy group Repower Shoalhaven has raised $143,500 in just seven days in its third funding round, an effort the group says amounts to the biggest community solar capital raise in Australian history.

Climate change move could cost households extra $40 a year
NEW ZEALAND – Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett says removing a carbon credit subsidy for businesses could cost households between $30 and $40 a year. The minister urged businesses to think twice about passing on the costs of their climate change obligations in the form of higher petrol and power bills. Parliament voted unanimously today [Friday] to scrap a “1 for 2” subsidy which halved the cost of carbon credits for companies to cover their greenhouse gas emissions.

Construction of world’s largest dam in DR Congo could begin within months
The largest dam in the world is set to begin construction within months and could be generating electricity in under five years. But 35,000 people may have to be relocated and it could be built without any environmental or social impact surveys, say critics.

Environment and Biodiversity

Climate change threat to top tourist sites
Extreme weather is becoming one of the biggest risks to World Heritage icons like Easter Island or Britain’s Stonehenge, posing a threat to tourism and economies alike, scientists and UN experts say.

Climate change, tourism and the Great Barrier Reef: what we know
The removal of an entire section on the Great Barrier Reef from an international report on World Heritage and climate change has been justified by the Australian government because of the impact on tourism… Australia is the only populated continent that was not mentioned in the report, which was produced by UNESCO, UNEP, and the Union of Concerned Scientists. It comes in the wake of one of the Great Barrier Reef’s most significant coral bleaching events – one widely attributed to climate change.


Revealed: report for Unesco on the Great Barrier Reef that Australia didn’t want world to see
This description of the Great Barrier Reef, obtained by Guardian Australia, was written by experts for a Unesco report on tourism and climate change but removed after objections from the Australian government. This draft would have been subject to minor amendments after being peer-reviewed. The lead author, Adam Markham, is deputy director of climate and energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Thirlmere Lakes: Coal mining to blame for damage to World Heritage area, new reports say
AUSTRALIA – A World Heritage-protected lake system south-west of Sydney has been “stuffed” by coal mining in the area, a scientist behind newly published research says. The Tahmoor Colliery has mined near the Thirlmere Lakes, two of which are currently empty, for almost 40 years. Operators have mined with approvals and under strict regulations – but this has not stopped the damage, according to one of the groundwater experts behind the report. “Whatever constraints we set 30 years ago have not been good enough,” said research co-author Philip Pells, who is also a former mining consultant.

The Bittersweet Life Story of a Captive Orangutan (Book Talk)
There are more than 4,000 great apes (gorillas, chimps, orangutans, and bonobos) in zoos worldwide. But, unlike the wild primates that naturalists like Jane Goodall or David Attenborough have turned into global media superstars, these captive apes have largely been forgotten, as though their lives behind bars make them less worthy of our attention.

Hyena Myths Busted: Are They Really Hermaphrodites?
Ugly. Villainous. Thieving. The insults leveled at hyenas are so nasty you’d think they were running for office.  These predators, inhabitants of Africa and Asia, have been maligned for centuries as grave robbers, witches’ steeds, and even “were-hyenas,” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Hyaena Specialist Group.  In hopes of clearing up some modern misconceptions, Weird Animal Question of the Week took the author’s prerogative to ask, “What are common myths—and truths—about hyenas?”

‘Quiet achiever’ protects 1.3 per cent of New Zealand
NEW ZEALAND – Over the last 25 years, the Nature Heritage Fund (NHF) has protected 341,881 hectares of conservation land, or 1.3 per cent of New Zealand’s land area. Just as impressive as the area is the price it has paid landowners: $163 million, or $529 per ha. Not all, but most of the land has been bought outright; some has been set aside in covenants. Even though there have been more covenants than acquisitions (395 compared to 353), 88 per cent of the protected land has been bought.

More complaints about top judge Dame Sian Elias’ cows, but farm says rules ‘ridiculous’
NEW ZEALAND – Cows owned by top judge Dame Sian Elias have wandered into Canterbury waterways at least three times since a warning issued in January.  Stock from The Lakes station in North Canterbury have been in Lake Sumner, which could breach the rules, and in the Hurunui River.

Fishing industry monitoring boats – Greenpeace
NEW ZEALAND – The government has awarded a contract to carry out surveillance on fishing boats to a company owned by the largest players in the country’s fishing industry. Greenpeace New Zealand has revealed the connection, which comes after recent reports into under-reporting and illegal dumping of catch in New Zealand, forcing an independent inquiry and the fast-tracking of monitoring on vessels.

Economy and Business

Is low-carbon economic growth really possible?
The statistic is startling. In the past two years, the global economy has grown by 6.5 percent, but carbon dioxide emissions from energy generation and transport have not grown at all, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported last month. CO2 emissions in Europe, the United States and — most stunningly — China have been falling. What is going on?… Is the idea of a future of “green growth,” with prosperity rising and emissions falling, real? Or as some fear, is it a dangerous myth?

Ecosystems take root in the climate change fight
“This whole ecosystem services thing was big in the 1990s, but then it seemed to fade away,” said Roshan Cooke, a climate and environment specialist with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, as he grabbed a quick vegetarian bite between sessions at the Adaptation Futures conference  in Rotterdam. Now, It seems to be back — and in a big way.” Does it ever!

How the Power of Partnerships Is Helping Volvo Cut Energy Use Across North America
In an effort to cut energy use across its manufacturing operations, Volvo has made inroads through the power of partnerships. In 2010, the company’s New River Valley (NRV) manufacturing plant in Dublin, Virginia, signed on to the Department of Energy’s Save Energy Now LEADER program — which later became the Better Buildings, Better Plants Program. Working with the DOE, the plant was able to cut its energy use by 30 percent in a single year.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Mobilising the shift towards a New Plastics Economy
The global plastics economy produces over 300 million tonnes of material each year, a figure that has increased twenty-fold over the past 50 years and is expected to double again by 2050. Transforming this system is a daunting task. However, it may start with a simple mindset change, one where stakeholders across the industry’s value chain look beyond the standard 10% incremental improvement targets focused on efficiency and recycling, and towards a redesign of the entire system.

Tyre recycling facilities could turn oversupply into competitive industry
AUSTRALIA – A long-term solution to Tasmania’s tyre waste problem is on the horizon, with a new facility preparing to shred thousands of tyres every year. The new tyre shredding facility proposed for the state’s south has been given approval by the Environment Protection Authority (EPA)… “They can use the powder or the crumb to make into road surfacing, sporting fields, brake pads, and things like that,” he said. A decision on council approval for the project is expected in weeks.

Politics and Society

Finding purpose: The solution-driven business (Book Excerpt)
When faced with the problems of our day, I am often asked if I am hopeful. My answer is always yes. The justification for that hope is the next generation that I see in my classrooms. The greatest joy, indeed the only real lasting legacy of a professor, is his or her students. They are my hope; they are all our hopes. Every new generation faces a new set of challenges left behind by the previous generation. For this new generation, environmental degradation stands as the ultimate challenge.

Australian election 2016: we will meet tougher targets on climate change, Turnbull says in leaders’ debate
Malcolm Turnbull conceded bipartisanship on climate change was desirable and committed to meet higher targets if set by the global community in the second leaders’ debate of the Australian election campaign. But the prime minister failed to outline how Australia would reach the 2030 emission reduction targets agreed to in Paris. Bill Shorten, the Labor leader, baited Turnbull, asking: “Whatever happened to the old Malcolm Turnbull on climate change? You were so impressive when you were leading on climate change,” Shorten said. “Now you’re just implementing Tony Abbott’s policies.”

CSIRO dismantles ‘integrated’ climate science group as pressure mounts on Larry Marshall
CSIRO’s deep cuts to its science programs have come under fresh criticism with the head of a global network of monitoring stations warning Australia will lose key researchers that will dent the country’s ability to manage future climate change. Almost all the staff at CSIRO’s Yarralumla, ACT site researching how vegetation is responding to rising temperatures and shifting rainfall patterns – information that feeds into the world’s main climate models – have been told their jobs are “surplus to needs”, senior scientists say.

New Zealand’s Great Walks not up to scratch
More than 60 per cent of tracks on New Zealand’s Great Walks are not up to the Department of Conservation’s standards. Conservation Minister Maggie Barry has released lists of DoC tracks, structures and huts, which have either been closed or are not up to standard. They showed 236.9km of track on the Great Walks were not to standard out of a total track length of 394.7km.

$100 million a ‘drop in the bucket’ for freshwater
NEW ZEALAND – A $100 million fund set aside to clean up waterways has been labelled an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith announced the funding which will be spread out over 10 years as part of the Government’s 2016 Budget. Smith said the funding would support initiatives to clean up New Zealand’s rivers, lakes and aquifers. The funding was met with mixed reactions.

Zambian villagers win right to have pollution case heard in Britain
Eighteen hundred Zambian villagers claiming to have had their water supplies polluted and their health affected by a giant mining company’s subsidiary have won the right to have their case heard in the British courts rather than in Zambia.

This New Test Will Tell You How Your Office Is Affecting Your Health
Let’s say two people want to lose weight. One has a job near a bike path and bike parking in his office—which has an inviting light-filled staircase that makes it fun to climb two flights of stairs—and his employer provides healthy snacks. Another works at an office park off the highway, doesn’t move all day, and has the choice between Doritos or Lay’s in the vending machine when he wants a quick snack. Who do you think will have an easier time losing pounds?

Built Environment

Eating the shore: New Zealand’s shrinking coastline
Erosion is eating away at New Zealand’s coastline, with satellite images showing the dramatic impact of its appetite on small communities the length of the country. It has forced people from their homes, and caused councils to relocate public infrastructure away from the encroaching sea. But the issue is a contentious one, as shown on Thursday, when the Christchurch City Council announced the team of five experts comprising the second peer review panel to assess Tonkin and Taylor’s Coastal Hazard Assessment Report. The move came after skepticism of the science behind the report, which identified 6000 properties that could be susceptible to erosion and nearly 18,000 at risk of coastal inundation over the next 50 to 100 years.

Sam Judd: Cruise ships spew out deadly emissions
Are you thinking about escaping the winter cold for a hot holiday on a cruise ship? If you thought that travelling by ship might be better for the environment than flying or driving a car, you would be sadly mistaken. Travelling by cruise ship will use almost 7.6 times as much carbon as making the same journey by plane and there are even more sinister pollutants that are belched into our air too. The cruise industry is booming – in fact it is New Zealand’s fastest growing tourism sector, and there is much lobbying underway to expand ports to make way for the giant ships, which has a major environmental impact.

This New Neighborhood Will Grow Its Own Food, Power Itself, And Handle Its Own Waste
If you live inside one of the houses in a new neighborhood being built in an Amsterdam suburb, your dining room might be next to an indoor vegetable garden. Outside, you’ll have another seasonal garden. And down the street, almost everything you eat will be grown in high-tech vertical farms. The neighborhood will be the first ReGen Village, a new type of community designed to be fully self-sufficient, growing its own food, making its own energy, and handling its own waste in a closed loop.

Density: Buxton, Johnson, Fensham expand debate
Depending on who you talk to high-rise buildings are either destroying the liveability of Australian cities or setting us up for the future. So how do we understand what level of density is okay? And how comfortable will we be as our cities accelerate expansion in a vertical rather than horizontal direction?

Food Systems

Chicken embryo tests can prevent practice of gassing billions of cockerels
The current practice of gassing billions of male chicks within a day of hatching because they cannot lay eggs could be stopped thanks to a new embryo gender test. Globally some 3.2 billion cockerels are killed within hours of breaking free of their eggs each year. Now Dutch scientists have developed a simple test that identifies the sex of chicken embryos within eggs, meaning males could be terminated long before hatching.


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