Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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One Tiny Wasp Turns a Fig Tree into a 150-Foot-High Eden
“This is what makes them very special: At any point in time in the tropical forest, there is a fig that has fruit.” German photographer Christian Ziegler, a tropical biologist by training who lives on the edge of a Panamanian rain forest, is talking about one of his obsessions. Where other trees have distinct fruiting seasons, Ziegler explains, figs are always available somewhere in the forest. And so especially in lean times—even a rain forest has a dry season—a fruiting fig can become a mob scene, like a watering hole in the Serengeti. Birds, monkeys, bats, insects—dozens of species congregate on a single tree, feasting in a noisy frenzy… Each species of fig has just one or two wasp species that pollinate it.

This motmot has a diverse diet, including figs. Over 2,000 bird species have been recorded eating figs. Photograph by Christian Ziegler, National Geographic

This motmot has a diverse diet, including figs. Over 2,000 bird species have been recorded eating figs. Photograph by Christian Ziegler, National Geographic

Energy and Climate Change

Record high to record low: what on earth is happening to Antarctica’s sea ice?
It may not seem unusual in a warming world to hear that Antarctica’s sea ice – the ice that forms each winter as the surface layer of the ocean freezes – is reducing. But this year’s record low comes hot on the heels of record high sea ice just two years ago. Overall, Antarctica’s sea ice has been growing, not shrinking. So how should we interpret this apparent backflip? In our paper published today in Nature Climate Change we review the latest science on Antarctica’s climate, and why it seems so confusing.

Putting carbon back in the land is just a smokescreen for real climate action: Climate Council report
Just as people pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, the land also absorbs some of those emissions. Plants, as they grow, use carbon dioxide and store it within their bodies. However, as the Climate Council’s latest report shows, Australia’s fossil fuels (including those burned overseas) are pumping 6.5 times as much carbon into the atmosphere as the land can absorb. This means that, while storing carbon on land is useful for combating climate change, it is no replacement for reducing fossil fuel emissions.

What caused South Australia’s state-wide blackout?
Power is gradually returning to South Australia after wild storms blew across the state last night, but some areas could be offline for days. The storm – associated with heavy rain, lightning, and severe winds – damaged transmission lines that carry electricity from power generators to people, causing a state-wide blackout. So, what did cause South Australia’s blackout?

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[Ed’s ten cents: The irony is not lost on me that the extreme weather that blew over the massive transmission lines could have been linked to climate change, and the government is still trying to argue for fossil fuels.]

Pumped on solar: How Australian farmers are harvesting the sun to water their fields
For many in Australia’s agriculture industry, distributed renewables technologies like solar and storage have come to represent a cheaper, more reliable alternative to the grid, to which many farms are connected via long, expensive and tenuous SWER lines. They are also being seen as a cheaper and cleaner alternative to the diesel fuelled generators many farmers use for either back-up or off-grid power.

Coal electricity generation falls to record UK low this spring
Coal generated a record low 6% of the UK’s electricity this spring, official figures show. The share of coal in the power mix fell from 20% in the same period last year, following the closures of Ferrybridge C, West Yorkshire, and Longannet coal-fired power station in Scotland.  Another coal unit at Drax, North Yorkshire, has also switched from the fossil fuel to burning biomass.

Brian Fallow: Climate change not just about carbon
NEW ZEALAND – If you own a car or a truck, you pay a price on the carbon dioxide emissions from its exhaust pipe. But if you own cows or sheep, the emissions of methane when they belch or nitrous oxide when they urinate are exempt under the emissions trading scheme. The current review of the ETS, whose results we still await, rules out changing that. New Zealand is, nonetheless, internationally accountable for all its emissions, including the 49 per cent represented by the two “agricultural” gases.

Environment and Biodiversity

Furniture that destroys forests: crackdown on ‘rampant’ trade in rosewood
Governments have launched a crackdown on the rampant billion-dollar trade in rosewood timber that is plundering forests across the planet to feed a booming luxury furniture market in China. The Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) summit on Thursday placed all 300 species of rosewood under trade restrictions, meaning criminals can no longer pass off illegally logged species as legitimate.

The World Is Finally Getting Serious About Tiger Farms
Johannesburg, South Africa—China came under pressure today for allowing the intensive breeding and sale of tiger parts, in violation of an international decision. The country has an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 tigers on “farms,” facilities that breed the animals for tourist entertainment while they’re alive, and for the luxury and medicinal markets after they’re slaughtered.

New data shows ‘staggering’ extent of great ape trade
A new database suggests say there has been a dramatic under-reporting of the live, illegal trade in great apes. Around 1,800 orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas were seized in 23 different countries since 2005, the figures show. Since 90% of the cases were within national borders they didn’t appear in major data records, which only contain international seizures. The new database has been published at the Cites meeting here in Johannesburg.

RSB photographer of the year shortlist and young photographer of the year winner – in pictures
Fighting elk bulls and a microscopic image of shark’s skin are among the shortlisted images for the Royal Society of Biology’s photographer of the year award, which this year takes the theme Biology: from Big to Small.

RSB young photographer of the year winner: The Beginning by Pradyuman Samant (Age 16)

RSB young photographer of the year winner: The Beginning by Pradyuman Samant (Age 16)
‘We have a huge planet with some tiny creatures we often ignore. Some people find it gross to even look at them and some aren’t even bothered. But no matter how big our world is, the beginning is always small. These bush frog tadpoles will be part of our “big” world someday, while others will be washed away in the rain.’ Taken in Maharashtra, India
Photograph: Pradyuman Samant/2016 Royal Society of Biology Photographer of the Year competition

Study suggests commercial fishing depletes key nutrients in coral reefs
Many of the ecosystems most impacted by human activities, such as tropical forests and coral reefs, are also among the most biodiverse in the world. But a recent study determined that conserving biodiversity may not be enough to ensure coral reefs rebound from the impacts of exploitation by mankind. In coral reef ecosystems, fish typically constitute a substantial portion of living biomass and thus represent an important reservoir of nutrients. So it makes sense that the removal of biomass via fishing impacts the nutrient capacity of coral reefs.

Myanmar’s forests face myriad problems as logging ban continues
Myanmar’s forests are rich. They are rich in variety, in natural resources, and in wildlife. But they are also rich in danger… The crisis is not new. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which tracks forest cover globally, in 2010 Myanmar had the third-highest rate of forest reduction in the world. Only Brazil and Indonesia rank higher.

UK faces European court for failing to protect porpoises
The UK will be hauled before the European court of justice for failing to provide safe habitats for harbour porpoises, the European commission said on Thursday. Harbour porpoises resemble bottlenose dolphins, with small rounded heads, flat foreheads and a black-lipped mouth that curves upwards, as if smiling. The mammals are endemic to the North Atlantic, but their numbers have been falling in the Baltic, Mediterranean and the east of the English Channel.

Mass rat sterilisation could be the answer to New Zealand’s pest free future
Making rats infertile on a mass scale could be the answer to New Zealand’s pest problem.  While the technology to make rodents infertile has been trialled in places like New York conservation minister Maggie Barry said it would likely still be a few years before it could be implemented here.

Economy and Business

Luxembourg Stock Exchange goes green in preparation for COP22
The Luxembourg Stock Exchange has become the first stock exchange in the world to introduce a platform that will trade exclusively in green bonds and other environment-focused financial instruments.

Practice What You Preach Can Now Be Measured
There’s a new wave of research that is measuring whether companies’ purpose matches their actions. What it’s found my not be surprising: Globally, there is a purpose-action gap among corporate brands.

Why corporate action on water remains a trickle
…preliminary findings from Ecosystem Marketplace’s upcoming water report show plenty of talk but little action on the water front as well. “There’s a lot of interest in water replenishment — or ‘water neutrality’ — but companies are still figuring out how to do it in practice,” said Genevieve Bennett, a senior associate at Ecosystem Marketplace and lead author of the forthcoming report, expected out this fall.

BP and Shell investors urged to reward bosses for backing green energy
Shell and BP’s pay plans encourage their bosses to dig for oil instead of investing in low-carbon energy and should be overhauled by shareholders, according to the campaign group ShareAction. Investors in the oil companies should use binding votes on pay policies next year to scrap short-term targets and reward chief executives for working towards the target set in Paris last December to limit global temperature increases to 2C or less, the responsible investment group says in a report.

UK ‘consistently waters down’ reforms of EU farming subsidies
The UK government could have stopped wealthy landowners including aristocrats and a Saudi racehorse owner receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds from the EU’s common agricultural policy, the European commission has said. An investigation of the top 100 recipients of CAP subsidies in the UK last year by the environmental campaign group Greenpeace revealed that at least one in five were farm businesses owned or controlled by members of aristocratic families.

Waste and the Circular Economy

A Sustainable Life at Home: How IKEA Plans to Become Circular
IKEA has been quietly piloting various initiatives across its European stores to see how it can build circularity into its service offering for customers. It’s a bold move, given that consumer-facing circular economy business models are still relatively embryonic, particularly in the retail market. “Over the coming years, we will support customers to care and repair, rent, share, bring back, and resell their IKEA products to prolong product life,” IKEA’s sustainability manager Jonas Engberg told me in a recent interview.

Switch disposable coffee cups for reusables, urge campaign groups
The billions of disposable coffee cups thrown away each year globally should be replaced with reusable ones because they are a waste of resources and harm forests, an international coalition of NGOs has urged. The call comes as a study by Cardiff University said that the plastic bag charge in England had been so successful that it showed a charge on coffee cups in the UK could work too.

Politics and Society

The WA shark cull: Behind the rhetoric of protesters and promoters
On the morning of 6 November 2000, Ken Crew was finishing his regular swim off the popular, and usually placid, beach of North Cottesloe, a 500-metre stretch of sand in a well-to-do western suburb of Perth. It was around 6.30, and the 49-year-old Crew, a businessman and father of three, was wading in waist-deep water, when a 5-metre great white shark sped south along the beach, slicing through a crowd of bathers. According to witnesses, it went straight for Crew, whom it circled for several minutes before attacking. The shark tore off Crew’s right leg and then turned to face Dirk Avery, one of Crew’s friends. Avery mounted a reef, where the great white risked beaching itself if it continued to pursue him, and managed to fight it off. He escaped with deep cuts to his legs and feet. Crew, despite furious attempts to save him, died just minutes after the attack, in the arms of his friend Brian Morrison, a priest.

Sense of place: messier than it ever was, so how do we manage this shifting world?
Place is a crucial dimension of human meaning and relationships. It grounds us. Our attachments with multiple places are a significant part of our individual and group identities. At one level, these attachments reflect our values and aspirations, while at another level they capture broader social, cultural and economic trends. Place is therefore at once very personal and collective. It connotes multiple rather than singular meanings.

Officials admit no modelling shows how Australia will meet Paris climate pledge
Government officials have acknowledged that Australia’s 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reductions pledged at Paris in 2015 were made without any modelling to show whether existing policies could achieve those targets. They also admitted the government did not have any modelling revealing when Australia’s emissions would peak.

RMA has failed environment – report
Laws designed to keep New Zealand clean and green have failed, both environmentalists and developers say. In an unusual partnership, the Environmental Defence Society, Employers and Manufacturers Association, Council for Infrastructure Development and Property Council have jointly published a report on whether the Resource Management Act (RMA) has delivered on its environmental goals. The report concluded that environmental outcomes had not met expectations and the Act was weak when it came to managing cumulative effects and long-term issues.

Built Environment

Sydney’s flat pack home solution to the housing affordability crisis
AUSTRALIA – ABC TV was in our co-lo offices in Glebe last week as part of its feature on our co-tenant Alexander Symes, an architect who is tonight (Thursday) launching his flat-pack, low-cost answer to the housing affordability crisis in Sydney. It’s “IKEA on steroids”, Symes says of his moveable, self-contained, off-grid system, which comes with its own trailer and can be placed on any available piece of vacant land while the occupants save for something more conventional.

Hot yoga not so cool for the planet
Hot yoga might seem like an oh-so-hip and enlightened way to keep fit, but according to research by The Footprint Company, the average studio is potentially making life sweatier for everyone. The research found that a 200 square metre hot yoga studio has eight times the planetary footprint of a regular yoga studio, and has a carbon footprint equivalent to 23 Australian households.

NSW Government axes highly valued Premier’s Council for Active Living
Urban planners and active living proponents are furious following the NSW government’s shock decision to axe the Premier’s Council for Active Living, the principal body for active living information and strategy in NSW, in what is shaping up to be yet another misstep by the Baird Government. Active living strategies integrate urban design and healthy outcomes, as a counter to years of urban planning based around the car as the central mode of transport, which is at least partly blamed for the obesity epidemic in Australia.


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