Sustainable Development News

Sustainable development news from around the world with a focus on Australia and New Zealand.
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There are so many problems in the world and they’re so complex. If you’re wanting to make a difference, today’s top story says you have more influence if you actually action the stuff you speak about. In other news on problems, it looks like scientists may have underestimated how warm the planet is actually going to get, while the past week around the world has seen records set for high temperatures, and we continue with biodiversity loss with a new IUCN red list, NSW land clearing and dead zones in the Baltic. For good news, see citizen science monitoring climate impacts in real time, leaving oil rigs standing provides good ocean habitat, the UK tightening emissions targets because it makes financial sense, and researchers racing to make bioplastics.

Top Story

Skip flying and walk the walk | newsroom
When Donald Trump announced that the US would pull out of the Paris Agreement to combat climate change last year, I felt hopeless. Our best hope at keeping global warming under two degrees had been killed by a reality TV star. A few weeks later, I went to a talk by University of Auckland colleague and psychologist, Professor Quentin Atkinson. He studies how beliefs spread, and he was discussing why people believe things even in the face of contradictory evidence. Quentin made the point that we tend to believe people who are prepared to make sacrifices that demonstrate their conviction. Those who walk the talk are more convincing than those who just talk.

Climate Change and Energy

Global temperature rises could be double those predicted by climate modelling | The Guardian
Temperature rises as a result of global warming could eventually be double what has been projected by climate models, according to an international team of researchers from 17 countries. Sea levels could also rise by six metres or more even if the world does meet the 2 degree target of the Paris accord. The findings, published last week in Nature Geoscience, were based on observations of evidence from three warm periods in the past 3.5m years in which global temperatures were 0.5-2 degrees above the pre-industrial temperatures of the 19th century.

All-time heat records have been set all over the world during the past week | SMH
From the normally mild summers of Ireland, Scotland and Canada to the scorching Middle East, numerous locations in the Northern Hemisphere have witnessed their hottest weather ever recorded over the past week. Large areas of heat pressure or heat domes scattered around the hemisphere led to the sweltering temperatures. No single record, in isolation, can be attributed to global warming. But collectively, these heat records are consistent with the kind of extremes we expect to see increase in a warming world.

Related: Hottest financial year on record BOM data shows | ABC News

Rooftop solar clocks second-best month ever, buoyed by commercial boom | RenewEconomy
AUSTRALIA – Small and medium businesses installing rooftop solar to cut costs and gain more independence from the grid have helped to deliver another bumper month for rooftop solar in Australia, with a total of 126MW installed across June. The latest data from solar analysts SunWiz shows that while registrations fell for the month from May’s record volume, they fell to a level that was still the second-highest on record.

Environment and Biodiversity

Australia’s reptiles threatened by invasive species, climate change – IUCN Red List | IUCN
Australia’s unique reptiles – including lizards and snakes – face severe threats from invasive species and climate change, with 7% of them threatened with extinction, reveals the latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM, published today. The Mauritian Flying Fox, an important pollinator, is now listed as Endangered due to a culling campaign, today’s update also reveals. There is some good news after the rediscovery of four South American amphibian species previously thought to be extinct.

Call to turn oil rigs into nature reserves | BBC News
Marine wildlife could benefit if some de-commissioned oil rigs were left on the sea bed, a survey says. This challenges the conventional wisdom that the sea bed should be restored to its pristine state when a rig’s life ends. The paper says over the 30-year lifetime of an oil rig, creatures have often colonised the structure to form a reef. It says this artificial habitat can be more valuable than the original seabed.

Baltic Sea oxygen levels at ‘1,500-year low due to human activity’ | The Guardian
The coastal waters of the Baltic have been starved of oxygen to a level unseen in at least 1,500 years largely as a result of modern human activity, scientists say. Nutrient run-off from agriculture and urban sewage are thought to be to blame.

An algae slick off the German Baltic coast near the Fehmarn Sound Bridge in 2003. Photograph: Carsten Rehder/EPA

An algae slick off the German Baltic coast near the Fehmarn Sound Bridge in 2003. Photograph: Carsten Rehder/EPA

Friday essay: frogwatching – charting climate change’s impact in the here and now | The Conversation
We’ve arranged to meet in a gravel car park at the foot of Mt Majura, a darkening wedge above us in the dusk. My daughter and I wait in the car. It’s winter. A woman passes along the nearby pavement, guiding her way by torchlight. Canberra’s streets are kept dim, I learned recently, for the sake of astronomers at nearby Mt Stromlo observatory. In the decade I’ve lived here, I’ve had an ambivalent relationship with Canberra, but the idea of a city that strikes bargains with stargazing scientists to restrict light pollution leaking skyward is endearing. There are other endearing things…

Whistling tree frogs, Litoria verreauxii, are one of the species monitored around Canberra for their response to climate change. Catching the eye/flickr, CC BY-NC

Whistling tree frogs, Litoria verreauxii, are one of the species monitored around Canberra for their response to climate change. Catching the eye/flickr, CC BY-NC

NSW faces court challenge as Australia tops global charts in natural vandalism | The Fifth Estate
AUSTRALIA – NSW is fast catching up to Queensland for land clearing, has wiped out 90 per cent of koala habitat on private land and this woeful track record has helped Australia become one of the most destructive land clearing countries on the planet – second in the world for biodiversity loss and in the top 10 globally for emissions from forest clearing. Queensland is now reforming its laws but The Nature Conservation Council is having to take NSW to court to force it to do the same.

Economy and Business

Public sector: Government strengthens 2020 greenhouse gas target | BusinessGreen
UK – Business Secretary Greg Clark has announced a new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from across the UK public sector estate by 43 per cent by 2019/20 against 2009/10 levels, as he unveiled a range of clean growth and energy efficiency measures during a speech in Newcastle today. Clark said working towards the more stretching target would save the public purse an estimated £340m, after the public sector last year saved £104m thanks to meeting a previous goal to reduce public sector emissions by a third by 2020 three years earlier than planned.

Waste and the Circular Economy

Polluters exposed by new eye in the sky satellite | BBC News
What must it be like to live in the Siberian town of Norilsk on a “bad air day”? They say the local smelting industry produces 1% of all the sulphur dioxide (SO₂) going into the air globally, something close to two million tonnes a year. SO₂ is particularly unpleasant if breathed in; but it also washes out of the sky as “acid rain”, damaging plant-life and denuding the quality of water in streams and rivers. The extent of Norilsk’s pollution problem is captured in remarkable new maps from Europe’s Sentinel-5P satellite.

Wind takes the sulphur dioxide south of the city, splitting the plume around mountains. Image: Copernicus Data 2018/TROPOMI/BIRA-IASB/DLR

Wind takes the sulphur dioxide south of the city, splitting the plume around mountains. Image: Copernicus Data 2018/TROPOMI/BIRA-IASB/DLR

Researchers race to make bioplastics from straw and food waste | The Guardian
New bioplastics are being made in laboratories from straw, wood chips and food waste, with researchers aiming to replace oil as the source of the world’s plastic. The new approaches include genetically modifying bacteria to eat wood and produce useful chemicals. But the bioplastics are currently significantly more expensive to make than fossil fuel-based plastics.

Hidden in plain sight: what the recycling crisis really looks like | The Guardian
AUSTRALIA – The recycling industry is in crisis, yet for most Australians it’s out of mind beyond the rattle of the recycling bin pickups each week. So what does this crisis really look like? Guardian Australia visited three processing sites to find out what happens to bins once they leave the kerb

A 200-metre composting hall

A 200-metre composting hall

Politics and Society

Gene drives accelerate evolution – but we need brakes | The Conversation
Worried about mice in the kitchen? Fed up with pigeons on your way to work? Teed off by weeds on your lawn? Recent work points to a way that might just reduce – or even eliminate – unwanted species in a short period. The method is based on something called a gene drive – a method of making changes to an entire population of a specific species by altering its genetic material (its genome).

Trump EPA head steps down after wave of ethics, management scandals | The Washington Post
USA – Scott Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general who relentlessly pursued President Trump’s promises of deregulation at the Environmental Protection Agency, resigned Thursday after a cascade of controversies over his lavish spending, ethical lapses and controversial management decisions finally eroded the president’s confidence in one of his most ardent Cabinet members.

Sexual misconduct review at Russell McVeagh eases fears over speaking out | RNZ News
NEW ZEALAND – The woman who led hundreds of students in a march to law firm Russell McVeagh’s Wellington office earlier this year hopes a high-level review paves the way for change.

Built Environment

UK chases “bytes and mortar” revolution – when will Australia follow? | The Fifth Estate
The United Kingdom hopes to cut the time taken to construct a new building in half by pouring £420 million (A$753m) into “bytes and mortar smart construction”, putting pressure on the Australian construction industry to invest in its own innovation efforts.

Food Systems

Tesco unveils zero deforestation soy goals | BusinessGreen
UK – Tesco has this week unveiled a new set of targets designed to curb deforestation fuelled by rising global demand for soy. The company revealed it has developed a new strategy in support of the commitment made through the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) to achieve zero-net deforestation in the sourcing of agricultural raw materials by 2020.