Sustainable Development News

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

Leading insurers tell G20 to stop funding fossil fuels by 2020
Three of the world’s biggest insurers have called on G20 leaders to implement a timeframe for ending fossil fuel subsidies when they meet in China this week. The G20 has already committed to phase out “inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption” over the “medium term”. In May, the G7 nations pledged to achieve this by 2025. When the leaders of the 20 largest economies meet in Hangzhou on Thursday and Friday, they must commit to an end to assistance for fossil fuel companies within four years, said a joint statement from insurers Aviva, Aegon and Amlin.

Energy and Climate Change

September will feel like summer instead of spring
NEW ZEALAND – Forget spring – it’s summer that has sprung, with meteorologists predicting yet more record-breaking temperatures for 2016. The months of March, April and May were the second warmest autumn ever, with the warmest May on record, according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA). NIWA forecaster Ben Noll said more records were set to fall in the coming months.

Cutting ARENA would devastate clean energy research
AUSTRALIA – This week’s first sitting of the 45th Parliament of Australia is considering a A$6.5 billion “omnibus savings bill”, including a proposed cut of A$1.3 billion to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). If adopted, it would effectively mean the end of ARENA and would devastate clean energy research in Australia… ARENA, an independent Commonwealth agency, has driven most of Australia’s innovative renewable energy projects in recent years. This includes Australia’s world-leading solar photovoltaics research centre at UNSW, the Carnegie wave energy pilot in Perth, AGL’s virtual power station trial and UTS’s own research into local electricity trading and network opportunity mapping.

Climate Change Authority splits over ETS report commissioned by Coalition
AUSTRALIA – A Climate Change Authority review charged with advising the government on how to meet its climate change commitments has led to an unprecedented split in its top ranks, with two of the body’s 11 members writing a dissenting “minority report”.

Climate authority split is no surprise – Australia has fought the same battle for 10 years
The split in the Climate Change Authority is a rerun of the climate policy fight Australia has been having for the past 10 years – the clash between what is undeniably necessary and what is politically possible. The CCA report, to be released on Wednesday, lands exactly on the spot where the major parties might, just might, be able to reach a compromise and finally end the barren years of climate policy “war”, policy reversal and time-wasting gridlock.

Victoria bans fracking, but leaves questions over gas supply
The Victorian government has announced it will permanently ban unconventional gas, often produced through the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”. Legislation to implement the ban will be introduced this year. This ban follows a 2015 report on unconventional gas… So will the ban make a difference?

Environment and Biodiversity

Is it really best for the environment to remove all traces of oil and gas production in the North Sea?
A wealth of studies have shown over the past two decades that ecosystem restoration is complex and that removing things like the infrastructure that supports the North Sea oil and gas industry does not necessarily result in a return to the ecosystem’s original state. The introduction of the OGP infrastructure has changed the North Sea. Structures such as platforms, thousands of kilometres of pipelines and other sub-sea structures have been in place for decades – and have been used as a medium for new ecosystems to establish themselves.

World heritage in the high seas: oceanic wonders explored (In pictures)
A report launched on 3 August by Unesco’s World Heritage Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) explores the importance of marine life in the open ocean, which covers more than half the planet.

An octocoral bush with two squat lobsters in the Gulf of Mexico. Photograph: NOAA

An octocoral bush with two squat lobsters in the Gulf of Mexico. Photograph: NOAA

Two female Asiatic cheetahs remain in wild in Iran, say conservationists
Conservationists say only two female Asiatic cheetahs are known to be alive in the wild in Iran, which hosts the last surviving population. Asiatic cheetahs, also known as Iranian cheetahs, are a subspecies of the fastest animal on earth and classified as critically endangered, with fewer than 40 believed to remain in Iran.

Tasmanian devils are evolving rapidly to fight their deadly cancer
AUSTRALIA – …New research, published today in Nature Communications, suggests that devils are evolving rapidly in response to their highly lethal transmissible cancer and that they could ultimately save themselves… The Tasmanian devil is too important to lose – and this would seem careless following the extinction of the thylacine, the world’s largest marsupial predator, in the 1930s. Since the thylacine’s extinction, devils have stepped up to the role of top marsupial predator, keeping numbers of destructive feral cats at bay in Tasmania. With the decline of the devils, invasive species have become more active.

Auckland Zoo to host creepy-crawly close-ups for Conservation Week
They’re spiny, spiky and can weigh more than a sparrow – but Nicola Toki is happy to have them crawl all over her. Toki, a threatened species ambassador for the Department of Conservation, says wetapunga, or giant weta, are “incredible” animals. “These insects are so ancient, it’s almost like holding a dinosaur in your hand.”… The week will focus on encouraging people, especially children, to get connected with the world around them, she said. “If kids foster a relationship with nature from an early age it will stick with them for life.”

Wetapunga are one of the heaviest insects in the world. Media: David White/Fairfax NZ

Wetapunga are one of the heaviest insects in the world. Media: David White/Fairfax NZ

Two meetings, two visions for Canterbury’s freshwater lakes and rivers
NEW ZEALAND – Two freshwater meetings on the same night have heard drastically different views of the state of Canterbury’s lakes and rivers. Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith presented a state of the environment speech at Lincoln University on Tuesday, where he outlined the Government’s objectives towards freshwater management. Five minutes away, the Green Party held its own meeting, targeting the health of the Selwyn River as part of its swimmable rivers campaign.
Read also: Swimmable lakes would require a bird cull – Smith

Chch water contaminated 125 times in four years
NEW ZEALAND – Christchurch’s drinking water has been contaminated with E coli 125 times in the past four years, and councillors are being urged to “act urgently”. Havelock North’s contamination crisis has seen more than 5000 people fall sick in the past few weeks. Like Havelock North, Christchurch’s drinking water is untreated, and there have been two cases of E coli contamination of water coming from bores in the city’s north-west, although there were no reported cases of sickness.

Economy and Business

World’s largest buyer to require suppliers’ GHG emissions disclosure
The US federal government is the world’s largest buyer of goods and services with an annual spend of more than $450 billion. Last week, the US General Services Administration (GSA) announced that they will now require contractors to disclose and reduce their greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions.

Coalition environment committee chairman takes aim at solar subsidies
AUSTRALIA – The Liberal chairman of the Coalition’s environment policy committee, Craig Kelly, has questioned solar and wind power subsidies and would like a cost-benefit analysis of future emission reductions policy, due to be reviewed next year. Kelly was named chairman of the environment and energy committee at the party room meeting on Monday, making him responsible for coordinating backbench feedback to the government on climate and energy policy. He said he was proud to be a climate sceptic rather than “wallow in groupthink, to be a sheep, or a lemming”.

Grants available for environmental projects
NEW ZEALAND – Locals wanting to help care for land, air, water, or wildlife are can apply to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council Environmental Enhancement Fund of $310,000 according to a statement released today. Fund co-ordinator Edward Sykes said funding grants were available for a range of activities including native planting, pest and weed control, wetland restoration and sustainability initiatives. Funding is allocated on a first in, first served basis to eligible projects.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Ministry for the Environment advises against introducing a plastic bag levy
NEW ZEALAND – Local councils support it, retailers support it and the Green Party simply will not stop talking about it.  Yet a plastic bag levy does not appear to be on the National Government’s radar, after the Ministry for the Environment advised against the scheme. The advice comes after a petition with 16,265 signatures, calling on the Government to look at ways it can phase out single-use plastic bags was delivered to parliament in August 2015 by Green Party MP Denise Roche.
[Ed: Meanwhile, previous articles in this newsletter have reported how the UK’s plastic bag levy has reduced plastic bag use by over 80%.]

Politics and Society

An official welcome to the Anthropocene epoch – but who gets to decide it’s here?
It’s literally epoch-defining news. A group of experts tasked with considering the question of whether we have officially entered the Anthropocene – the geological age characterised by humans’ influence on the planet – has delivered its answer: yes… The Anthropocene has fast become an academic buzzword and has achieved a degree of public visibility in recent years. But the more the term is used, the more confusion reigns, at least for those not versed in the niceties of the underpinning science.

In a world of 7 billion people how can we protect wildlife?
Consumers and collectors want sturgeon caviar, snakeskin bags, shark meat and fins, wild snowdrop bulbs, precious rosewood furniture, and quality agarwood oil, as well as rare birds, reptiles, cacti and orchids. But they rarely stop to think about their origins. There are now over seven billion people consuming biodiversity every day in the form of medicines, food, clothing, furniture, perfumes and luxury goods. Demand for products drawn from nature is increasing, and with it pressure is growing on some of our wildlife species.

Another Indonesian court convicts a company of causing fires
In December 2015, plantation company PT Bumi Mekar Hijau was acquitted in a civil suit the government had filed against it for letting fires ravage its land in 2014. Now, an appeals court has reversed that decision, ordering the company to pay $6 million in compensation. Environmentalists wished the company had been made to pay a higher penalty, given that the government was asking for more than $600 million. The 2015 Southeast Asian haze crisis cost Indonesia $16 billion, according to the World Bank.

Built Environment

If Tesla model 3 delivers, “gas vehicles are history,” auto executives admit
No doubt about it, many of us EV enthusiasts have been blown away by the Tesla Model 3 and believe it’s the car that is really going to break the gasoline auto industry’s back. But we’re just EV enthusiasts, right? Treehuggers, tech heads, climate alarmists, and people obsessed with breathing clean air — that’s who we are, right?… In a new Wall Street Journal article, however, a striking quotation jumped out… Here’s the beauty (which is a mix of paraphrasing from author Chris Mims and the straight words of Mike Fox): “If Tesla can deliver on its current promises with the Model 3, says Mr. Fox, ‘gas vehicles are history—it’s horse and buggy days.’”


Emissions from new diesel cars are still far higher than official limit
New diesel cars are still emitting many times the official limit for polluting nitrogen oxides when driven on the road, almost a year after the Volkswagen emissions scandal broke. Renault, Mercedes-Benz, Mazda and Hyundai have all launched diesel models in 2016 with NOx emissions that are far higher than the official lab-based test when driven in real-world conditions, according to tests by Emissions Analytics (EA), a company whose data is used by the manufacturers of most cars sold in Europe. Ironically, the only new model to meet the limit when on the road was a Volkswagen Tiguan.

NSW community planning group gets its own Parliament House event
AUSTRALIA – The Better Planning Network came out in force last Tuesday night to show what it’s made of. Like the Built Environment Meets Parliament conference two weeks ago, it too met at Parliament House NSW. Both events were a show of strength, the venue a symbol of the political cache held by each of these two groups. In some ways you could see them as two sides of the same coin: BEMP representing the built environment’s main professional and advocacy bodies, BPN representing the community and an increasingly feisty network calling for a bigger voice in the planning process.

World’s tallest timber building tops out ahead of schedule
Brock Commons, an 18-storey cross-laminated timber building being constructed in Vancouver, Canada, has topped out in just 66 days, well ahead of schedule. At 53 metres tall, the student accommodation at the University of British Columbia is expected to become the tallest mass wood high-rise in the world, an honour currently held by the 14-storey Treet tower in Norway, and before that Australia’s own Forté building in Melbourne by Lendlease. The title might not last too long, however, with a 24-storey tower due for completion in Vienna in late 2017, as well as a concept plan for a 300-metre-tall tower in London recently being put forward.

New push to double city energy efficiency gains by 2030
The World Green Building Council and the World Resources Institute-led Building Efficiency Accelerator have joined forces to double participating cities’ rate of energy efficiency improvement by 2030… This is important because although cities occupy just three per cent of the land cover on earth, they account for 70 per cent of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, cities are expanding at a phenomenal rate, adding 180,000 new inhabitants every day.

Food Systems

Greenpeace takes aim at not-so-sustainable seafood
From trendy sustainable sushi restaurants to illegal fishing showdowns reminiscent of action movie plots, concerns about over-fishing and the volatile state of the world’s oceans are now more widely recognized than ever. Yet that’s not necessarily to say that the publicity around sustainable seafood has translated to guilt-free sashimi. As a new Greenpeace report details, seafood supply chains are still far from transparent, despite increasing adoption of well-known sustainability certifications like the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).


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