Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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Some good news in our top story today, for Australia anyway, our production of goods and services grew more than our consumption of water and electricity.  It is a small improvement or, we could think of it as being less bad, but it does show that we can increase the health of the environment while maintaining a viable economy.  Now we need to get better at it. Other news on seals breeding in the Thames, valuing waste collectors in Brazil, and Nestle is banned from the RSPO.  And we have a quiz!  I love quizzes but generally do poorly, this one I did pretty well, which is a relief because recycling can be very confusing and our poor habits are the reason China is no longer accepting our contaminated rubbish.

Top Story

Economic growth doesn’t have to wreck environment | SMH
Do you care about the natural environment and the damage our economic activity is doing to it? What if an official agency published some good news on the subject? Would you be interested? Would you be pleased? Apparently not. Two weeks ago the Australian Bureau of Statistics published its “Australian environmental-economic accounts” for 2015-16, which contained what certainly looks like good news, but they attracted minimal interest from the media and environmental groups.

Climate Change and Energy

Tesla Powerpack installed at Sydney depot, as part of Transgrid network trial | One Step Off The Grid
AUSTRALIA – A 500kWh Tesla battery has been added to a 500kW rooftop solar system at a council depot in the Sydney CBD, marking the city’s first grid-scale Powerpack installation. The newly operational battery system was unveiled at the Alexandra Canal Depot on Thursday, as part of a trial of behind the meter energy storage being conducted by NSW network operator Transgrid.

How climate change is increasing the risk of wildfires | The Conversation
UK – The army has been called in to help firefighters deal with a huge wildfire on Saddleworth Moor, Greater Manchester, where residents have been forced to evacuate. Wildfires are also blazing across Northern California while the issue of bushfires in Australia calls for constant vigilance from the emergency services there. These fires are becoming more common and one of the reasons for this is climate change.

A helicopter drops water as firefighters tackle the wildfire on Saddleworth Moor, Greater Manchester. Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images

A helicopter drops water as firefighters tackle the wildfire on Saddleworth Moor, Greater Manchester. Peter Byrne/PA Wire/PA Images

Related: More Saddleworth-style fires likely as climate changes, scientists warn | The Guardian

Environment and Biodiversity

Marine protected areas often expensive and misplaced | CEED
Many marine protected areas are often unnecessarily expensive and located in the wrong places, an international study has shown. The University of Queensland was part of research which found protected areas missed many unique ecosystems, and have a greater impact on fisheries than necessary. A collaboration with the University of Hamburg, Wildlife Conservation Society and The Nature Conservancy assessed the efficiency of marine protected areas, which now cover 16 per cent of national waters around the world.

Plastic in seas around NZ pose biggest risk in world’s seabirds |
NEW ZEALAND – Rubbish that ends up in New Zealand waters has the potential to cause more damage to seabird populations than anywhere else in the world. Forest & Bird spokeswoman Karen Baird said New Zealand’s unique number of seabirds  meant the potential impact of plastic rubbish was heightened.

Related: Internationally-renowned Kiwis back voyage to raise awareness of plastic polluting oceans |

Why scientists are counting seal pups in the Thames Estuary | BBC News
UK – Sixty years ago the Thames Estuary was regarded as “biologically dead” and largely devoid of wildlife. But, in recent years seals have returned to the Thames as well as to the coastal and low-lying lands bordering the estuary.  Last year, scientists recorded more than 3,500 harbour and grey seals. Now, they are starting the first count of seal pups to see how important the area is a breeding ground.

Economy and Business

Green is the new black: why retailers want you to know about their green credentials | The Conversation|
Australian supermarkets phasing out single-use plastic bags is just one example of how retailers are fiercely engaged in a race to be “green”. Other examples are dumping plastic straws, buying back used products and reducing unnecessary packaging.  Rather than competing on price or time, green credentials offer a way for retailers to differentiate themselves.

Synlait to pay farmers premium for producing milk without palm kernel |
NEW ZEALAND – Synlait will pay a premium to dairy farmers who cut palm kernel out of their cows’ diet as the company moves to reduce its environmental footprint. The annual incentive of eight cents per kilogram of milk solids would be paid to farmers who met on-farm sustainability targets and produced palm kernel-free milk, milk supply manager David Williams said at the company’s annual conference in Christchurch on Thursday.

Catadores: The unsung street heroes challenging Brazil’s social structures through new waste app | ABC News
Elismaura Pereira dos Santos has worked as a waste-picker in Brazil’s sprawling city of Sao Paulo for the past two decades. The 43-year-old mother of eight spends her days scouring the streets, collecting rubbish and recyclable goods to on-sell at the city’s scrap centres. The work is low-paid and back-breaking, but Ms Santos takes it in her stride. “It’s like a gymnasium for the poor,” she jokes. Ms Santos is one of an estimated 400,000 waste pickers in Brazil, but the actual number could be double this.

Photo: Catadores use wagons, or carrocas, to carry out their informal street cleaning. (Supplied: Nick Parkin)

Photo: Catadores use wagons, or carrocas, to carry out their informal street cleaning. (Supplied: Nick Parkin)

MDB Climate Finance in 2017: The Good, the Bad and the Urgent, Part II | World Resources Institute
Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) are vital players in the climate finance ecosystem. They provide direct financing for climate mitigation and adaptation activities and help mobilize private sector investment in climate solutions. Earlier this month, the MDBs released their annual Joint Report on Climate Finance, covering their activities in 2017. Just as we did last year, we reviewed the report and found several encouraging trends, some disappointing results, and many opportunities for increased ambition.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Think you know how to recycle? Take the quiz | The Guardian
Recycling should be straightforward: paper goes in the blue bin; plastics, glass and metal in the yellow bin; dead plants in the green bin and everything else in the red bin – right? Except it’s not always quite that easy. What do you do with mixed packaging? How do you deal with neighbours doing the wrong thing? And what to do with pizza boxes?

City of Melbourne propose new-plastics tax | The Fifth Estate
A tax on “virgin” plastics, paper and metals has been proposed in the City of Melbourne’s Current Recycling Challenges discussion paper released today. A container deposit scheme, a ban on some types of packaging, and a retailer and manufacturer waste take-back scheme are some of the paper’s other suggestions for alleviating the strains currently felt by Victoria’s waste and recycling industry.

Related: Urgent calls for plastics ban, as recycling and composting plants run out of space |

Politics and Society

‘We’ve turned a corner’: farmers shift on climate change and want a say on energy | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – Out in the bush, far from the ritualised political jousting in Canberra, attitudes are changing. Regional Australia has turned the corner when it comes to acknowledging the reality of climate change, says the woman now charged with safeguarding the interests of farmers in Canberra.

From alternative facts to tender age shelters – how euphemisms become political weapons of mass distraction | The Conversation
The recent images of children in cages provided yet another reason to throw your head into your hands over America’s inhumane treatment of immigrants. So – for most of us – it was a great relief to hear that Donald Trump eventually gave into pressure and signed an executive order to stop enforcing the laws mandating the separation of children from their parents. But there are still many hundreds of young people detained in the euphemistically termed “tender age shelters” – in reality, prisons for children and toddlers.

‘Something is not right’: How $US100,000 ensured a million-dollar illegal catch was forgotten in East Timor | ABC News
When police in East Timor caught a large fleet of Chinese fishing boats last year, with thousands of dead sharks on board, the evidence of illegal fishing — on a massive scale — seemed indisputable. But after a nine-month investigation the crew, the boats and the multi-million-dollar haul are gone, having been released and allowed to sail home to China — apparently not guilty of any wrongdoing. A US$100,000 ($135,300) payment apparently secured their release. But just who paid it, and where has the money gone?

Built Environment

Smart city planning can preserve old trees and the wildlife that needs them | The Conversation
Australia’s landscapes are dotted with mature eucalypts that were standing well before Captain Cook sailed into Botany Bay. These old trees were once revered as an icon of the unique Australian landscape, but they’re rapidly becoming collateral damage from population growth. Mature eucalypts are routinely removed to make way for new suburbs. This has a considerable impact on our native fauna.

After disasters hit, how countries and communities can build back better | World Bank
A new report, “Building Back Better: Achieving Resilience through Strong, Faster, and More Inclusive Post-Disaster Reconstruction,” explores how countries can strengthen their resilience to natural shocks through a better reconstruction process.

EVs go underground, as BHP beats Tesla to the electric ute | RenewEconomy
We know a lot of the world’s biggest mining and resources companies are turning to clean energy to power their remote and off-grid operations – and, more recently, their processing plants. But what about their cars? Australian mining giant BHP has announced that it is trialling electric vehicles – and not among its fleet of executive rides, but at the “coalface”, so to speak, of its massive Olympic Dam copper mine in South Australia.

Food Systems

Nestle suspended from sustainable palm oil group following conduct breaches | ABC News
Nestle can no longer claim to use certified sustainable palm oil in its chocolates and other products, after being suspended by the group responsible for certification. But Greenpeace says the ban is too little, too late, and has only been imposed for monetary purposes. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has come under repeated criticism for being too soft on member companies, suspended Nestle after “breaches of the RSPO statutes and code of conduct for members”.

Sorry, baristas: instant coffee has the smallest carbon footprint (but don’t overfill the kettle) | The Conversation
To figure out a product’s overall environmental impact – at every stage from production, to shipping, to consumption – researchers use a method called “life cycle assessment”. This method has been used to calculate the footprint of everything from running shoes to biofuels. Coffee is a classic candidate for life cycle assessments, because there are so many different options to compare. You might think that instant coffee is the most processed of coffee products and therefore a less sustainable choice, but appearances can be deceptive.

Murray-Darling Basin Plan: How $13b of investment can make a difference to the environment | ABC News
AUSTRALIA – Almost $13 billion has been set aside to rescue the Murray-Darling river system from environmental disaster but what is being achieved with that money? Farmers use more than 80 per cent of the water consumed in the basin to produce a third of the nation’s food (ABS figures). According to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, the basin is home to more than two million people and covers about 14 per cent of Australia’s landmass. The authority says the basin includes a range of diverse landscapes and complex ecosystems, including over 77,000 km of rivers and more than 25,000 wetlands.