Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Shell takes $2.6bn hit following Arctic U-turn
Shell took a $2.6bn hit over its decision to halt its oil exploration programme in the Arctic, according to its latest quarterly financial results released yesterday. The oil giant also suffered a further $2bn writedown after its decision earlier this week to pull out of the Canadian tar sands project Carmon Creek, alongside other charges triggered by the slump in oil and gas prices in recent months. In addition, Shell’s third-quarter earnings were 70 per cent lower than the same time a year ago, at $1.8bn. In total, the firm suffered $7.9bn of charges as it sought to cut costs in light of the ongoing downturn in oil prices. Taking the charges into account, the firm posted a $6.1bn loss for the quarter.

Energy and Climate Change

Could Hurricane Patricia be a harbinger of storms in a warming climate?
Hurricane Patricia drew immediate attention by intensifying from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane in a single day. It soon developed the fastest winds ever recorded in a western hemisphere storm. Meteorologists and climate scientists have already begun their scientific investigations of how a cyclical El Niño and ongoing greenhouse warming intensified this remarkable storm.

How the networks fiddle with data to trash rooftop solar PV
Networks across Australia appear to be launching a major campaign to curb the growth of rooftop solar PV – introducing or proposing tariff changes such as high fixed network costs or “demand charges” that penalise rooftop solar and are designed to slow installation rates. As part of this campaign, the networks are using data that they say “proves” that rooftop solar PV is not reducing peak demand, and therefore not contributing to the grid. They use this to justify changing tariffs to reflect the “cost” of rooftop solar, but not its benefits.

The future of energy
New Zealand holds an enviable position internationally in terms of its renewable energy production and consumption, being one of the few countries to achieve eighty per cent renewable electricity generation (in 2014). However, it would be naive to think that this will continue to afford us energy security immunity in the long term… Dr Rosie Bosworth delves into a comprehensive report from the BusinessNZ Energy Council. It creates two clear energy scenarios for our future, but which path will we take?

Government to cut tax relief for community green energy schemes
UK – The government plans to cut tax reliefs for community energy schemes to build new renewable power capacity such as solar and wind in a move that will deal a further blow to the UK’s embattled renewables sector, green campaigners have warned.  The Treasury is to remove tax reliefs of 30% or more for community energyschemes that reduced the risk for investors and encouraged private capital to help build new energy capacity.

How Tanzania plans to light up a million homes with solar power
In February, [the Tanzanian government] launched its One Million Solar Homes initiative to provide the sun’s power to 1m properties by 2017. Off Grid Electric, the Tanzanian company implementing the initiative, says it will provide power to 10% of the country’s homes. Currently, only 40% have access to grid power with access particularly sparse in rural areas.\

Paris 2015: UN Conference on Climate Change

Prince Charles calls for focus on deforestation ahead of Paris climate talks
The Prince of Wales has said tackling deforestation will be central to combating global warming as he confirmed he will attend next month’s crucial climate change summit. Charles will address the delegates at the opening of the summit. But at a London meeting of foreign environment ministers, private firms and NGOs hoping to find a consensus before Paris, he raised his concerns.

Environment and Biodiversity

How Indonesia’s fires made it the biggest climate polluter
Indonesia’s forest fires have catapulted the southeast Asian nation to the top of the rankings of the world’s worst global warming offenders, with daily emissions exceeding those of China on at least 14 days in the past two months.

Will reintroduced lynx hunt Britain’s sheep?
Depending on who you ask, the Eurasian lynx is either a benign woodland wonder or a sheep-stalking terror. In reality, any lynx can be either or none of these things. But research from other European countries to which they have returned tells us that a mooted reintroduction to Britain is unlikely to trouble farmers. The campaign to restore the 30kg cat to the UK gathered steam this week as the proposal was opened to stakeholder consultation. There is no suggestion the lynx will attack humans, but the National Farmers Union (NFU) was quick to release a statement laying out its objections.

The Eurasian lynx: research from other European countries shows their reintroduction is unlikely to trouble British farmers. Photograph: Alamy Photograph: Jamen Percy/Alamy

The Eurasian lynx: research from other European countries shows their reintroduction is unlikely to trouble British farmers. Photograph: Alamy Photograph: Jamen Percy/Alamy


Here Are 7 Cats You Never Knew Existed
Though lions, tigers, and cheetahs often occupy the conservation spotlight, their smaller cousins deserve some attention too. For National Cat Day, we reached deep into our archives to pull up portraits of a sampling of the 30 small cat species. Take a look at these small cats on National Cat Day.

Rangers turn to tiny native wasp to save Fraser Island’s iconic pandanus population
AUSTRALIA – Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service rangers are using a tiny native wasp to save Fraser Island’s iconic pandanus trees. The island’s population of pandanus trees has been devastated over the past 10 years by a leaf hopper known as Jamella. The insect bores into the plant and secretes a liquid that attracts a potentially lethal mould infection. But principal ranger Ross Belcher said the pest’s numbers could be reduced by introducing the Aphanomerus wasp, which attacks freshly hatched leaf hoppers.

Infected Nelson beehive destroyed
NEW ZEALAND – An unregistered Nelson beehive infected with highly contagious American foulbrood has been burnt after notice was served on the owner. It is one of several infected hives found in the region over the past few months, including in the Nelson city area. Its discovery has prompted a call by the foulbrood management agency for all beekeepers to be vigilant and to observe the stringent rules around the bacterial disease, which is designated as the most serious honey bee disease in New Zealand.

Defra abuzz as urban bees deliver first honey
UK – Environment secretary Liz Truss collected the first batch of honey from Defra’s rooftop beehives yesterday… Defra installed beehives on the roof of its building in Westminster in a bid to underline the government’s commitment to supporting pollinators, which are vital for many food crops but have been declining for decades, and highlight the viability of urban beekeeping. Growing numbers of businesses across the UK have embraced the concept in recent years, installing rooftop beehives that are designed to both produce honey and help tackle the decline in bee populations.

French wine industry’s love affair with pesticides blamed for worker health problems
France deploys around 60,000 tonnes of pesticides each year and is Europe’s most prolific user by volume. Grapes are notoriously prone to disease and pests, with large quantities of pesticides used in conventional cultivation systems, mainly through crop spraying.  But the French wine industry’s love affair with pesticides is coming under scrutiny over concerns about its health and social impacts. Earlier this year, a landmark legal action was launched by lawyers acting for the daughter of a vine grower, James-Bernard Murat, who died from cancer linked to his use of pesticides over a 40 year period.

Economy and Business

Green energy firms press for environmental goods free trade agreement
A coalition of green businesses are urging governments around the world to create a new trade agreement for environmental goods during talks beginning today in Geneva, Switzerland. Diplomats from the US, China, the EU, and 11 other countries will meet today to begin the next round of talks on a proposed Environmental Trade Agreement (EGA) that would liberalise international trade on $1tr of environmental goods a year. The talks are organised under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and are designed to bring an end to protectionist measures relating to clean technologies, such as import tariffs on solar panels and wind turbine components.

Why isn’t business lobbying Congress about climate change?
USA – At a meeting of the minds in sustainable business this week, one CEO asked an elephant-in-the-room type question amid a flurry of positive statistics indicating that big companies have increasingly acted to lower carbon emissions and invest in renewable energy. “What will it take before companies at the conference stand up to Congress and say we’ve got to move, we’ve got to do something about climate change now?” asked Elliott Hoffman, CEO of REV Sustainability during a workshop at the VERGE 2015 conference in San Jose. It’s great that so many companies have sustainability goals and have publicly committed to reduce emissions, he said, but why are they not communicating their worries about climate change to Congress? Why are their lobbying efforts not going to this issue?

Three things we learned about how business can help achieve SDGs
At the end of this year the millennium development goals will be replaced by 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). Focused on tackling poverty, education, health, hunger and environmental issues around the world, the private sector has been involved in devising the framework for the SDGs. In a recent live chat we learned three key lessons about its role in their delivery.

A German energy crowd-funding start-up that aims to make community energy easy
Germany’s energy crowd-funding start-up aims to make community energy easy. But recent government changes to the feed-in-tariff have made it a difficult market. I met their founder, Dr Peer Piske, to see how they might adjust their strategy.

Waste and the Circular Economy

The fish farm of the future – interactive
Fish farms have divided critics. But problems around pollution and the use of wild fish as feed could be resolved by a new, self-contained approach to fish farming.

Common minimum requirements needed for extended producer responsibility say industry groups
Trade bodies representing sectors including packaging, batteries, waste electronics and tyres have called for common minimum requirements for extended producer responsibility (EPR) across Europe.

Politics and Society

WA Threatened Species Forum: keynote speaker Victoria Laurie urges kids to explore the bush
Liberating children to the joys of the bush will ensure they are willing to conserve it, author Victoria Laurie says. Her latest book, The Southwest: Australia’s Biodiversity Hotspot is a call to arms for West Australians living in the biodiversity hotspot to become acquainted with their natural environment. “Any kid who spends a lot of time in the bush knows it’s a fantastic thing to do,” she said on ABC Mid West and Wheatbelt. “It’s liberating, you’re away from mum and dad, within safety, and you can explore the world by yourself.  I think there’s a danger that we are drifting out of touch with it.”

Farmers working to save the turquoise parrot in north-east Victoria
AUSTRALIA – Farmers in north-east Victoria are playing a key role in ensuring the future of a little bird. The turquoise parrot, as the name suggests, is a brightly coloured bird that lives in hollows of tree branches across the region… Working with the authority and the Broken Boosey Catchment Management Network, farmers have been erecting specially designed nest boxes and planting native food species to encourage the birds survival.

Cecile Meier: New Zealand not so ‘clean and green’
OPINION: As New Zealand vies for the Rugby World Cup crown, it also picks up the wooden spoon for environmental performance. That’s the opinion of the OECD, which gave New Zealand a low mark for greenhouse gas emissions per capita and ranked it last among its 34 members in terms of the percentage of municipal waste going into landfill. It also reflects my experience of living in four OECD countries. When I lived in Switzerland, I didn’t own a car, rarely ate meat and was better at recycling. Being ‘clean and green’ was easy there because everyone else was too. Swiss supermarkets stopped giving away plastic bags years ago, and people took recycling and biking to work seriously… Since moving here, I’ve fallen in line with the local trend. Being kind to the environment takes effort, and without the sense of social obligation I had in Switzerland I’ve become lazy.

Seven countries take part in WHO-organised disaster response training in Darwin
The chaos following a category 5 cyclone on an imaginary Pacific island called Namuna has been recreated in Australia for the first global disaster relief training exercise. The World Health Organisation (WHO) organised the exercise with Australia’s National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre in Darwin. Teams from seven countries responded to real scenarios created by actors in the simulation as they arrived on the mythical island and went through Customs.

Malcolm Turnbull’s five mistakes about coal
AUSTRALIA – This week Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that when it came to coal, it was “important to take the ideology out – just approach it in a very clear-eyed, cool-headed, rational way”. The PM’s comments were made in response to a call by 61 leading Australians for an international halt to new coal mines and mine expansions. The signatories included Nobel-winning scientist Peter Doherty and former Reserve Bank Governor Bernie Fraser, individuals who may not be unfamiliar with logic and rationality… Here are some of his comments and why the PM failed his own test.

Who gets to decide whether we dig up coal and gas?
AUSTRALIA – The right of landowners to say no to companies looking for resources beneath our land has been in the news this week, following a debate on the ABC’s Q&A program about coal seam gas… The debates over coal seam gas are similar to those around coal mining. Following the recent re-approval of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine, federal environment minister Greg Hunt said that he was bound by the law: “… the law describes and absolutely sets out the terms on which I am entitled and allowed to assess. And any other decision would certainly, in my view, have been invalidated by a court.” So who does decide who gets the resources beneath our feet?

Oil exploration one step closer to Auckland after council approval
NEW ZEALAND – Auckland Councillors have voted to approve a submission for oil exploration off the city’s west coast. The council had been under pressure from environmental activists to reject the plan to allow exploration permits. However, on Thursday, councillors voted 12 for and eight against, to give it the green light.

Built Environment

Luke Middleton on affordable ways to get sustainable design outcomes
The land, sun and wind are the best departure points for creating sustainable building design, according to EME Design principal Luke Middleton. Middleton began his career as a designer following a “previous incarnation” as a builder. He says a sense of inquisitiveness and an attitude of “why can’t you do it?” fuelled explorations into creating green buildings ranging from homes and apartments to educational, retail, community and public space projects. “It’s important to not just pay lip service [to sustainable design]. If it starts as the generator of the architecture, you can create more unique results,” Middleton says.


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