Sustainable Development News

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

$1tn could be wasted on ‘unneeded’ new coal plants, report warns
Almost $1tn of investment in new coal-fired power stations could be wasted if growing concerns about climate change and air pollution leave the plants unused, according to a new report. About 1,500 new coal plants are in construction or planning stages around the world but electricity generation from the fossil fuel has fallen in recent years, the detailed report from the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and CoalSwarm found. In China, existing plants are now used just 50% of the time, coal use is falling and new permits and construction have been halted in half of the nation’s provinces, affecting about 250 plants.

Energy and Climate Change

Sea levels set to ‘rise far more rapidly than expected’
Sea levels could rise far more rapidly than expected in coming decades, according to new research that reveals Antarctica’s vast ice cap is less stable than previously thought. The UN’s climate science body had predicted up to a metre of sea level rise this century – but it did not anticipate any significant contribution from Antarctica, where increasing snowfall was expected to keep the ice sheet in balance. According a study, published in the journal Nature, collapsing Antarctic ice sheets are expected to double sea-level rise to two metres by 2100, if carbon emissions are not cut.

How tech is tackling global problems – Tech weekly podcast (Audio 31:07)
It’s the question on everyone’s lips: what are we doing about climate change? Lucky for us, there are innovations in tech and science taking place that may be applied to global issues like climate change.

Grid Parity: What Is It, & Why Does It Matter?
For financial analysts, “grid parity” is just a shorthand way of describing when a clean energy form (think renewable sources like solar and wind) costs the same or less as a conventional energy form from the grid (think dirty sources like coal, oil, and natural gas). At least, that’s the short version. But for climate activists, grid parity is something of a Holy Grail, a critical point that – in many ways and for a number of reasons – shifts the transition to clean energy into high gear. But like many terms from the world of finance, grid parity isn’t exactly cut and dry. Today, we hope to bring some clarity to the nuances of grid parity as we look at what it really means, why it matters, and examples of nations that have started to reach this turning point.

Redflow’s Hackett: We’re better than Tesla’s home battery storage
Simon Hackett, the executive chairman of Australian battery storage developer Redflow, declares himself to be the number one fan of Tesla electric vehicles in Australia. But he insists that Redflow’s battery storage product is better than the Tesla Powerwall. Redflow threw down the gauntlet to its much-hyped international rival on Wednesday, announcing the release of the ZCell battery storage product, bigger and more expensive than Tesla and other big name products, but one Hackett expects to be a force in the market.

Australian company launches home solar storage battery to take on electronics giant Tesla
With the number of depleted home solar batteries being thrown away tipped to rise over the coming years, one Australian company is taking on electronic giants such as Tesla and Panasonic with the launch of an easily recyclable power source.

Powercor switches on Australia’s biggest grid-scale battery storage
Victoria network operator Powercor on Wednesday switched on Australia’s largest grid-scale battery storage installation south of Ballarat, where it will provide 3,000 customers with up to one hour of back-up power during a power outage. The 2MW battery storage facility is the first of its kind to be directly connected to a grid in Australia. Housed in a 40-foot shipping container, it was officially switched on by Victorian Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, although it won’t be “fully operational” until mid year.

Environment and Biodiversity

Deafening Atlantic oil prospecting to go ahead despite threat to marine life
The Obama administration is to press ahead with proposals to allow loud underwater prospecting for oil and gas off the east coast, even though the practice has been likened to being at the “epicenter of a grenade blast” for whales and other marine creatures sensitive to noise.

Great Barrier Reef ‘fried’ by worst coral bleaching on record: scientist
The worst coral bleaching event on record is destroying the most pristine part of the Great Barrier Reef in a “slow-motion train wreck”, a reef expert has warned. Professor Terry Hughes, the convenor of the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce, has just returned from aerial surveys that show devastating levels of bleaching in the northern part of the reef, from Cairns to the top of Cape York and beyond.

Climate change could put eucalypts at risk of death from air bubbles
Extreme droughts could lead to widespread death of eucalypts from embolisms, researchers say. The trees cannot quickly adjust the size of their water transport vessels to cope with variability in water supply. Their findings, published in this month’s Ecology Letters, show the ability of eucalypts to transport water to their leaves has been “hard-wired” over long periods of evolution.

Department of Conservation and Real Journeys announce three more trips to Dusky Sound
NEW ZEALAND – The Department of Conservation and Real Journeys have announced three more conservation expeditions into Dusky Sound for this year. The partnership between DOC and Real Journeys would see three five-day expeditions visit several of Dusky Sound’s remote islands where DOC is undertaking conservation work. DOC operations manager for Fiordland Greg Lind said the expedition held last year raised awareness, funds and helped with conservation in Dusky Sound. “The positive feedback was overwhelming, as was the interest in further conservation cruise opportunities.”

The impact of anti-odor clothing on the environment
Anti-odor athletic clothes containing silver nanoparticles have gained a foothold among exercise buffs, but questions have arisen over how safe and effective they are. Now scientists report in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology that silver nanoparticles and coatings do wash off of commercially available garments in the laundry but at negligible levels. They also found that even low concentrations of silver on clothing kept microbes at bay.  Thanks to their antimicrobial properties, silver nanoparticles are found in an increasing array of products such as food packaging, bandages and textiles. At the same time, scientists have been studying the possible effects silver nanoparticles might have on the environment and human health.

Economy and Business

Cans of fresh air sold in China
More than 300 cans of fresh air from south China’s Hainan Province have been sold at the 2016 Hainan International Tourism Trade Expo. Selling for 29 yuan (US$4.50), the cans of clean air have generated significant interest from businesses and tourists from smog-effected cities in the north and northeast China.

Global renewable energy investments hit £200bn record
Worldwide investment in renewable energy hit a record £202.3 billion in 2015, according to a new study. The new total beats the previous record of £194 billion set in 2011 and was published in the 10th Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment. The new study also shows that investment in developing countries was greater than in developed nations.

The emergence of green tariffs in US electricity markets: why now?
Green tariffs are one effective way for utilities in traditional, regulated markets to offer renewable energy services that are as attractive as other options available to buyers in more competitive markets.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Whales are starving – their stomachs full of our plastic waste
In January, 29 sperm whales stranded on shores around the North Sea. The results of the necropsies (the animal equivalent of autopsies) of 13 of those whales, which beached in Germany, near the town of Tönning in Schleswig-Holstein, have just been released. The animals’ stomachs were filled with plastic debris. A 13-metre-long fishing net, a 70cm piece of plastic from a car and other pieces of plastic litter had been inadvertently ingested by the animals, who may have thought they were food, such as squid, their main diet, which they consume by sucking their prey into their mouths.

Circular economy will be important to businesses in two years, according to 86% of executives
A survey of sustainability executives has found that 86% of them believe the circular economy will be important to their business in next two years. According to the 2016 UPS/GreenBiz Circular Economy Research Study, this is double the 47% who thought it would be important two years ago.

A new strategy for drought-stressed cities: graywater recycling
Many regions of the United States are struggling with water shortages… In these conditions, some state and local governments are looking for innovative ways to save water. One strategy gaining increasing attention is using graywater – water from bathroom sinks, showers, bathtubs, clothes washers and laundry sinks, but not from toilets or kitchens – for purposes other than drinking, such as flushing toilets.

FedEx plans to deliver ‘future of aviation’ with biofuels drive
The world’s largest express transportation company is pioneering the use of sustainable aviation fuels through a new partnership which will see millions of gallons of biofuel produced from waste wood biomass.

Politics and Society

British health systems ‘unprepared for devastating effects of climate change’
British health systems are unprepared for the “devastating” effects of climate change, leading health bodies have warned. As extreme weather events such as flooding or heatwaves become more common, the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change urged ministers not to “wait for disaster” before acting.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges rejects following Norway with petrol car ban
NEW ZEALAND – Transport Minister Simon Bridges has rejected a call for the Government to set a deadline after which the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles would be banned.  Software entrepreneur and electric vehicle champion Sigurd Magnusson said New Zealand should follow Norway, which plans to stop sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2025.

Christina Bu: electric vehicles in Norway (Audio 28:12)
NEW ZEALAND – In Norway over 17% of all cars are electric – more than any other country. With a population of just over 5 million, it has nearly 100,000 electric vehicles. New Zealand – with a population only slightly smaller – has just over 1,000. Christina Bu, the Secretary General of the Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association, tells Kim Hill that Norway began subsidising ‘EVs’ 25 years ago:

Built Environment

How Vodafone and Philips are leveraging the Internet of Things to spark new era of smart cities
Mobile operator Vodafone has formed a new partnership with Philips Lighting which combines an Internet of Things (IoT) network with an integrated LED street light management system, which could see cities across the world slash energy use by 70%.

Does timber high-rise equal high risk?
AUSTRALIA – Much of our building code has evolved from the Great Fire of London. The fire that wiped out 80 per cent of the city in 1666 led to the London Building Act of 1667 – the first that enabled surveyors to enforce its regulations. It laid down that all houses were to be built in brick or stone, with the number of storeys and width of walls carefully specified. Three-hundred-and-fifty years later, we still see construction above three storeys as risky business. But is it?

Why greening is important for public health
The ways in which urban greening can improve our health are numerous – including encouraging people to get out and walk or ride a bike. They are simply more likely to do so when the streets are shaded by trees, according to Link Place director and former Major Cities Unit director Sara Stace. Stace says that when people use active travel, 80 per cent of the economic benefits for society are the reduction in health costs. These include reduced risk of cardiovascular problems, mental health issues and the likelihood of getting diabetes.


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