Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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People around the world will act on climate change to create a better society: study
If we can convince people that climate change is real and important, then surely they will act: this intuitive idea underlies many efforts to communicate climate change to the public. Initially it was very successful in increasing public awareness and support, but anyone aware of the protracted climate change “debate” can see that people who are still unconvinced are now very unlikely to be swayed. In research published in Nature Climate Change today, my colleagues and I show that people will support action on climate change if it helps to create a better society.

Energy and Climate Change

World falls well short on climate pledges, but buys some time
Here’s the bad news: The sum total of the climate pledges made by countries in the lead-up to the Paris climate change summit fall well short of the 2°C target. In fact, they are only likely to reduce global warming from the “do nothing” trajectory of 4.5°C by 2100 to the “doing something” trajectory of 3.5°C. The world will need to at least double its efforts to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Here’s the good news: That result is pretty much as expected. There was no real hope that Paris would “save the planet” and deliver the 2°C outcome everyone knows is the bare minimum to contain the runaway impacts of climate change. But it should provide a framework to achieve that goal, and these pledges will buy the world some time – about 7 years.

United Nations: ‘Too late’ for world if no climate deal in Paris, French president Francois Hollande says
Reaching a successful climate deal in Paris at the end of the year is the last chance to save the planet, France’s president Francois Hollande has warned. Without “this decision in Paris … it will be too late for the world,” Mr Hollande said in his address to the UN General Assembly in New York… Despite the warning, Mr Hollande sounded a note of optimism after China and the United States signed a “joint vision” ahead of the Paris summit, and China committed to a domestic cap-and-trade carbon exchange.

End perverse fossil fuel subsidies, says Corporate Leader Group
The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change (CLG), which represents EU business leaders from the likes of Aviva, Kingfisher and Unilever, has thrown its weight behind calls for an end to fossil fuel subsidies.  The organisation, based at the University of Cambridge, is supporting the Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform Communiqué, which calls on countries to realise the economic and environmental benefits of removing financial support for fossil-fuel power generation across the globe.

Australia leads world on household solar … and on coal
With 1.4 million households with solar PV installed, rooftop solar has been one of Australia’s renewable energy success stories – a fact that is celebrated in a new report by the Energy Supply Association of Australia. The report, titled Renewable Energy in Australia – How do we really compare?, notes that while Australia is ranked sixth in the world for total solar per capita, it is number one when it comes to solar on rooftops. And the ESSA fact sheet has plenty of nice graphics to illustrate this achievement.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt opens the door to government wind power investment
AUSTRALIA – Environment Minister Greg Hunt says the federal government’s “green bank” may be allowed to invest in new wind farm technology, in another sign the Coalition’s war on renewable energy is winding down. Speaking on ABC radio on Tuesday, Mr Hunt said “emerging” wind power such as new turbines or offshore wind farms may be eligible for funding from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. The position diverges from the government’s controversial order in July, under former prime minister Tony Abbott, that the $10 billion corporation could not invest in wind power projects.

Schools power up with solar
NEW ZEALAND – Wellington’s Maungaraki Primary School has knocked back power consumption by nearly 70 per cent, cutting around $5000 from its electricity bill in the year since it put photovoltaic solar panels on classroom roofs. Up the road Naenae Primary has cut its power bill in half after installing solar panels. Both schools are pouring the money saved into converting to LED lighting, which could potentially cut lighting bills in half – the biggest drain on schools’ energy costs. The work has been done with the help of eco-enthusiast and cameraman Mike Rathbone, who hit on the idea when looking down on the local school from his hilltop Hutt Valley home.

Environment and Biodiversity

Indonesia sends force of nearly 21,000 to fight forest fires as haze continues to choke region
Indonesia has sent nearly 21,000 personnel to fight fires on its northern islands that have spread haze to neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia, the country’s disaster management agency says. Heavy smoke from “slash-and-burn” clearances often comes from the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan, where palm oil companies have large forest concessions. Indonesian efforts to halt the seasonal clearances have failed. This season’s haze has blanketed the region in a choking haze for weeks, pushing up pollution levels and disrupting flights, as it does every year.

World’s largest ecological study aims to make palm oil wildlife-friendly
On average, just 15% of the species recorded in primary forest are found in oil palm plantations. But what if these forest fragments were expanded or redesigned to encourage more species to survive and migrate through palm oil landscapes? For the past five years, Ewers has been leading a study called the Safe project to answer this question. With a team of researchers on the island of Borneo, Malaysia – one of the most biodiverse regions in the world – he is studying the impact of different types and sizes of forest fragments on wildlife populations.

How to watch the great migration of animals from Serengeti
Every year a million wildebeest, half a million gazelle and 200,000 zebra make the perilous trek from the Serengeti park in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara reserve in Kenya in their search for water and grazing land. It is one of nature’s most spectacular sights – and one that few people are able to see first hand. But this year the dramatic display is being broadcast live on the web – complete with expert commentary. Twice daily broadcasts of 10 to 20 minutes will run on Twitter’s Periscope app.

Welsh adventurer to traverse Madagascar on foot for lemurs
On September 7th, Ash Dykes arrived at Cape Sainte Marie on the southern tip of Madagascar. He gazed over the vast Indian Ocean before turning north along the coast. Over the next five months, 24-year-old Dykes from the village of Old Colwyn in Wales, plans to walk the entire length of Madagascar: trekking 2,900 kilometres of desert, rainforest and mountains in one of the world’s most unusual landscapes… But Dykes isn’t tackling Madagascar just for the challenge; he’s also partnering with the Lemur Conservation Network to bring attention to what is arguably the most bizarre and wonderful mix of flora and fauna in the world. Scientists believe that 70-90% of Madagascar’s species – including all those lemurs – are found no-where else on the planet.

A male comet moth (Argema mittrei) recently emerged and drying its wings in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Madagascar. The gorgeous moth is only found in the island nation. Photograph: Nick Garbutt/Nick Garbutt/Nature Picture Library/Corbis

A male comet moth (Argema mittrei) recently emerged and drying its wings in Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, Madagascar. The gorgeous moth is only found in the island nation. Photograph: Nick Garbutt/Nick Garbutt/Nature Picture Library/Corbis

New Zealand’s new ocean sanctuary will be one of world’s largest protected areas
New Zealand will create one of the largest marine protected areas in the world, spanning an area of 620,000 sq km. The Kermadec ocean sanctuary will be one of the world’s most significant fully protected ecosystems, the prime minister of New Zealand, John Key, told the UN general assembly in New York. The sanctuary is in the South Pacific Ocean, about 1000km north-east of New Zealand, and expands a marine reserve that surrounds a clutch of small islands.

Shark summit: Electric fences could protect Australian beaches from ocean predator
Fencing off Australia’s beaches from sharks with electric cables was one idea discussed at a summit where experts have tried to develop ways to repel the predators and prevent attacks.  Dozens of leading international scientists gathered at the Sydney summit called by the NSW Government after a number of attacks and sightings in the state this year.

Inskip beach collapse: just don’t call it a ‘sinkhole’
AUSTRALIA – As was widely reported in the media, at around 10pm last Saturday night, a “sinkhole” opened up at a beachfront campground on the Inskip peninsular. The thing is, it almost certainly wasn’t a sinkhole. Unanticipated ground collapses occur around the world from time to time, and these generally get labelled “sinkholes”, for want a more appropriate term. Yet “sinkhole” is poorly defined and often misused, generally referring to some type of geological phenomenon that causes localised ground surface collapse.

Economy and Business

Liebreich and Blanchard: Thinking about energy – The lure of laziness
Forecasting oil prices, as I have noted before, is hard. You build huge data sets of supply curves and stocks; you create complicated demand models; you overlay geopolitical analysis at the deepest level of granularity you can afford; you mine big data for the impact of speculation and trading. And then you explain to your boss why you are right and the market is wrong. Most people just use simple heuristics. According to Wikipedia, a heuristic is “a mental shortcut that eases the cognitive load of making a decision.” In any industrial transition, lots of formerly reliable heuristics have to be scrapped. One of the most exciting developments of the past five years is the debunking of the assumption, which has served for many decades, that renewable energy is always expensive. It is simply not true anymore.

Yes, it is our business: how corporations can help on Sustainable Development Goals
The shift in the perceived role of corporations as solely profit generators to agents for positive change has become clearer than ever before with the new UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs focus on the greatest challenges faced by humanity with the aim of ending poverty and hunger, misery and war, unfairness and inequality. Clearly, governments alone cannot achieve this big agenda, nor should they. Businesses have enormous power, resources and knowledge to assist. Corporate responsibility is no longer about doing less harm, or giving money to charity.

New Tool Helps Businesses Act on Sustainable Development Goals
GRI, the UN Global Compact and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) have launched a new tool to help companies navigate and contribute to a new set of global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations earlier this week. The SDG Compass is a guide that companies can use to align their strategies with the relevant SDGs, and measure and manage their impacts. It is supported by a live and constantly updated inventory of business indicators and tools.

Zurich pledges to focus 10 per cent of investments on delivering ‘positive impact’
Insurance group Zurich has revealed plans to plough around $100m into companies and projects that have a positive environmental or social impact. Zurich today pledged to put up to 10 per cent of its private equity investments into “impact investments” that either support the development of a low carbon economy or boost community resilience, marking the latest step forward in its responsible investment strategy. The company said it would now work with fund managers to identify equity funds which directly address environmental and social responsibility issues, while also targetting financial returns.

Mars, Bloomberg vow with 6 million companies to act on climate change
A refrain echoed through the Climate Group’s signature and final Climate Week meeting Monday in New York, where hundreds of business people had gathered to talk about their role in stemming climate change. Pamela Mars-Wright from the board of directors of Mars Inc., the first U.S.-based multinational company to transition to 100-percent renewable energy and pledge to zero greenhouse-gas emissions, spoke about her college-age children, generation five in the family-owned business. “Addressing climate change is not an option to them,” she said, but an absolute necessity. “They make that very clear.”

Is the fossil fuel industry, like the tobacco industry, guilty of racketeering?
ExxonMobil has become infamous for its secretive anti-climate science campaign, having spent $30 million funding groups denying the scientific evidence and consensus on human-caused global warming. Last week, after an eight-month investigation, InsideClimate News revealed that from the late-1970s to the mid-1980s, scientists at Exxon were in fact at the cutting edge of climate science research.

Australian clean energy jobs could be worth $370bn in 10 years
Australia’s renewable energy industry could generate $370 billion worth of jobs over the next 10 years using current technology, a new report has found. The report, released on Tuesday by Beyond Zero Emissions, aims to illustrate how Australia can transition from coal-fired power to renewables, shifting the economy along with it.  “Our research with Melbourne University into energy generation in Australia shows that we can create $370 billion of green energy jobs with current technology, instead of using coal-fired power stations,” said Beyond Zero Emissions CEO Stephen Bygrave.

Greens leader Di Natale calls for national audit into mine rehabilitation expenses
Greens leader Richard Di Natale has called for a national mining audit to determine if state governments have enough money to cover the full cost of mine rehabilitation.  There are currently around 50,000 abandoned mines around the country — a legacy of the old mining days when companies simply walked away when the profits dried up.  Senator Di Natale has now raised concerns, saying it is unclear if states hold enough in financial bonds to properly rehabilitate mines as they close.

Volkswagen to recall and refit up to 11 million cars affected by emissions software scandal
Volkswagen has announced plans to refit up to 11 million vehicles and overhaul its namesake brand to try to move on from the scandal over its cheating on diesel emissions tests. New chief executive Matthias Mueller said the German carmaker would ask customers “in the next few days” to have diesel vehicles that contained illegal software refitted, a move which some analysts have said could cost more than $6.5 billion euros ($10.4 billion).

Waste and the Circular Economy

Mil-tek: Turning trash to treasure
You own a company. That company creates waste – much of it recyclable? You go to the trouble of separating it at source, and it gathers down in the basement until such time as you have a full load. You pay a contractor to take it away. Job done, right? There is a better way, where your carefully separated waste can actually become a source of revenue. It’s this model which has seen Mil-tek, a provider of specialised waste solutions, thrive in the New Zealand market.

Victoria moves to ban e-waste from landfill
AUSTRALIA – The Victorian Government is considering a ban on the dumping of e-waste in landfills, and an extension of the definition of e-waste to include consumer whitegoods.  A discussion paper has been released for consultation on the implementation of the proposal, with submissions being taken until 1 November 2015. The government said e-waste was growing three times faster than general municipal waste in Australia, putting increased pressure on waste management infrastructure and the environment.

Politics and Society

Friends of the Farm: Community waste champions
NEW ZEALAND – Janine Nillesen is a force to be reckoned with. The unstoppable Mangere-Bridge-based, Ambury Farm ranger fills her days teaching kids how to milk cows, shear sheep and make butter, traversing the farm to trap rats and stoats and waging war on weeds. In her spare time, the mum-of-three battles waste and builds strong local bonds as the co-founder of Friends of the Farm – local volunteers who prioritise community, the natural environment and fun in equal, hearty doses.

CFA to launch court action over Hazelwood mine fire costs
AUSTRALIA – The Country Fire Authority is set to launch court action against the owners of the Hazelwood brown coal mine to recover the costs of fighting a massive fire at the site last year that choked the town of Morwell with smoke. Since March the CFA has been seeking $18 million from the Hazelwood’s owners, GDF Suez, related to the costs of quelling the 45-day fire that occurred in the mine last year. The Age revealed in July that GDF Suez was refusing to pay an invoice from the CFA, citing the company’s contributions to the state’s fire services levy, which is imposed on property owners to help cover the costs of fire fighting services.

Costly and harmful: we need to tame the tsunami of too much medicine
AUSTRALIA – ABC’s Four Corners program on waste in health care didn’t pull any punches. “Many common treatments are often unnecessary, ineffective, or worse still harmful,” said presenter Kerry O’Brien, introducing a special investigation narrated by long-time ABC health reporter Dr Norman Swan. “Waste runs into tens of billions of dollars a year – much of it due to overdiagnosis and the ill-advised treatments that follow.” For those who missed it, last night’s program focused on several high-cost areas of health care where the evidence suggests that too much medicine is doing us more harm than good: knee pain, back pain, chest pain and PSA (prostate specific antigen) screening for prostate cancer.

Built Environment

Melbourne and Sydney join Compact of Mayors first-mover list
Melbourne and Sydney have become the first Australian cities to comply with Compact of Mayors requirements, a global coalition of mayors and city officials pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance resilience to climate change and track progress transparently. The two cities join another eight global cities that have pledged to make significant carbon cuts ahead of COP 21 in Paris later this year, comprising Copenhagen, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Stockholm, Oslo, New York and Washington DC. Joining the Compact of Mayors, launched in 2014, was a key recommendation of a recent report that found that low carbon cities could unlock $17 trillion worth of savings by 2050.

Food Systems

Is it OK to eat farmed salmon now?
Since first reared in Norway in the 1960s, farmed salmon has expanded rapidly in the last two decades and now accounts for 70% of all the salmon we eat. Norway, Chile and Scotland dominate production of the fish, which prefer cool, sheltered and tidal waters to maximise growth rates and ward off disease. Helped by its heavy promotion as a healthy source of omega-3 fatty acids, salmon now ranks as the biggest selling seafood in the UK with retail sales of £700m in 2014. At first, farmed salmon seemed like a positive step towards reducing pressure on wild fish stocks. That optimism was quickly overtaken by concerns about its reliance on wild fish in feed, the use of chemicals to treat sea lice outbreaks and escaping fish introducing negative genetic traits into wild populations.


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